Nominalization and Conversion
Every field of endeavor has its vocabulary, and the business world, for better or worse, has contributed significantly to the English language with jargon—an insider language that often obfuscates when it should clarify and complicates when it should simplify. This post discusses two categories of such word adaptation.
Nominalization is morphological change though suffixation—the creation of a noun by attaching a suffix to an existing noun or another part of speech. For example, pomposity derives from pompous, corporatism comes from corporate, and humanization results from nominalization of humanize (and, of course, nominalization is itself a nominalization of nominal, which simply means “pertaining to a name or naming,” though it often has a sense of “in name only”).
This neologistic strategy is not inherently inadvisable; it is, after all, how we label concepts that help us understand the world. But writers can get carried away, piling up nominalizations into a formidable heap of sesquipedalian pedantry. When you find yourself collecting such constructions, aid comprehension by breaking the discussion down into more conversational prose—describe with a phrase what one word can do more concisely but not necessarily more coherently.
The second category, conversion (also called zero derivation), sometimes takes this disassembly too far in the opposite direction. Here, one part of speech is repurposed, without alteration, into another, as when verbs become nouns. Some examples are well worn: Disconnect, for one, has become increasingly ubiquitous since its coinage several decades ago to describe a break or disruption between two entities or parties or between one entity or party and a concept.
But other venerable words have taken on new senses: For example, build, which as a noun has long referred to a person or animal’s size and shape, now also denotes the development of a procedure or a system. Fail has existed for some time as a noun in the phrase “without fail” and in the context of a financial deal, but now it is an everyday truncation of failure. And read, employed for decades to refer to something read or the act of reading or time spent reading, has more recently developed as a casual alternative to analysis or opinion in such comments as “What’s your read on that?”
Meanwhile, a new generation of upstart conversions has entered the lexicon since the passing of the last millennium: Writers refer to an ask, or what is expected or requested of someone. Solution is passé; one now achieves a solve. And the cost of something is often referred to in corporate contexts as the spend.
It’s likely too late for an undo for some of these words, but others may quietly disappear, while those that remain eventually become as unobjectionable as disconnect as a noun. But unless you’re in the thick of the business realm (and perhaps even then), maintain an aversion to conversion.
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