Heavenly Verbs, Headache Verbs
A sampling of especially fetching, and frustrating, action words Two chapters and three appendices in Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch exist to help you sort out and sift through some of the trickiest verbs in English. They might be verbs with irregular past-tense forms. They might be phrasal verbs, action words that change depending on the adverb or preposition they hitch up with. They might be verbs that are often used, misused, abused, and confused. These are the headache verbs. But for every headache verb there is a heavenly one: a term that is endlessly rich and carries mysterious power. It may be a word whose meaning has shifted over time, so that it has many different layers of meaning. We want to understand them all, and to select the perfect verb for every sentence. I will use this space to showcase both heavenly verbs and headache verbs, rotating a different set of verbs in every few weeks. Some of these verbs appear in Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch, some of them appear only here. (New batch, added 7/20/18) Gank. Think of this a skanky version of purloin. You’ll find this verb in print and online slang dictionaries—but also in the Oxford English Dictionary. For casual speculation about the roots of gank, look no further than online video-game forums. Gank has been used in gaming communities for decades to mean “defeating an opponent in a surreptitious way,” as when you gang up against them. The verb can be used by the rest of us, though, as a synonym for taking or stealing property or even defrauding someone. And it can be lowbrow or high-. N.W.A used it in in the 1987 song “Dopeman,” and Erin Belieu gave it prominence in her 2018 poem “Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease.” Geeks. He geeks out every night after the others leave. Get. This diminutive verb has “gotten” a multitude of meanings in the past century, many of them casual. Theodore Bernstein calls it, along with fix, “one of the handiest tools of the language.” It is right up there with be, see, have, do, and say as one of the most frequent main verbs of a sentence. Get has come to mean “earn,” “catch,” “prepare,” “seize,” “puzzle,” “kill,” “cause,” “memorize,” and “understand.” For starters. It can appear as a helping verb in any and all of the following permutations: get going, get sick, get started, get talking, and get tired. And check it out as a phrasal verb: get away with and get under way. Sometimes it’s just idiomatic, as in get a life, get it free, get it on, and get your goat. Then there is get married, which really set off Ambrose Bierce. In Write It Right, the 19th-century journalist and satirist opined that if got married is correct, we should also say got dead instead of die. Get across/ after/ along/ around/ at/ away/ away with/ back/ back at/ back into/ the best of/ on/ over/ rid of/ through/ together/ up. Get is one of those verbs that gets around. It pairs with too many particles to name here. And the pairs themselves often have multiple meanings. Get around means something different if you’re talking about your promiscuous cousin or your less mobile great-grandfather. Get over is the same whether you’re talking about a cold or an ex. Get rid of. It’s not stirring, but it helps us get rid of the Latinate eliminate. “Get up, stand up.” “Get up, stand up” is subversive, verging on profound. Bob Marley and his cowriter, Peter Tosh, turned a trio of phrasal verbs (get up, stand up, and don’t give up) into a rallying cry for resisting oppression. Ghost. If this verb meant only “to ghostwrite,” would eHarmony have an advice column about it? These days, ghosting someone means cutting off all contact without so much as a “boo.” Merriam-Webster online added this use of “ghost” in February, 2017, noting that social media plays a big part in current uses of ghosting (e.g., ghosting your friend or romantic partner by ignoring their messages). Basically, this is a verb for what we use to call “being passive aggressive.” Give way. Intransitive, as in “the door gave way.” Glance/Glimpse. Both these words involve quick looks. If your look obtains only a partial picture, you’ve glimpsed something. When someone glances at something, exactly how much that person saw remains ambiguous. A woman could discern a blind date’s fears in one glance, or be so preoccupied that she sees nothing when glancing at her menu. The words also operate differently when they shift into nouniness: we take a glance and catch a glimpse. Back in verbitude, glimpse can take direct objects, as in She glimpsed dust bunnies in the corners of his room, but glance doesn’t, as in He glanced at her and quickly shut his door. Glean. Glean does not mean “learn,” “find,” “acquire,” “deduce,” “collect,” “derive,” “obtain,” “garner,” or “get.” Nor does it mean “gather.” Literally, to glean is “to collect in bits what has been left by the reaper.” But since the 14th century it has broadened to mean “to collect bits with great effort.” But that still gives it a pretty precise shade of meaning. Glisten. Think of the distinctions English allows us to make among qualities of light: the difference between glow, gleam, glimmer, and glitter. Glisten, which suggest reflected light as well as a sparkling luster, adds the effect produced by moisture, as in, “Slate roofs glisten after a light rain.” Glug. Both the noun and the verb are used to imitate the gurgling sound of water. (Warning: This word is closely related to glub.) The verb form allows us to change the phrase the glug-glug of the water coming out of the jug to the water glugged out of the jug. While some dictionaries don’t recognize glug as a noun, Merriam-Webster online pours out definitions of both the noun and the verb.