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 12/10/15) Amuse/bemuse. Don’t let these two bemuse you. When something amuses, it’s funny or entertaining. Something bemusing is bewildering or confusing. Annihilate. Originating from the Latin nihil, meaning “nothing.” Its meaning—“to destroy completely”—has been in use since the 1500s. Apostatize. To abandon a principle, or a religious or political belief. To ensure proper spelling, Visual Thesaurus recommends thinking of its definition as “to become apostate.” Arrive at. A phrasal verb used figuratively to mean that a decision or agreement has been made. After a week of deliberation, the jurors arrived at a consensus. Aver. To affirm or declare. You’ll likely come across this verb only in formal writing. (Its synonyms include the much more common “allege,” “declare,” and “affirm.”) What makes aver a neat word, though, is its derivation (from the Latin verus, meaning “true”) and its clear relation to “very,” “verdict,” and “verify.” Bamboozle. It sounds like a word straight out of the comics, but this verb dates back to around 1700. While its origins remain unknown, its definition, “to deceive by trickery,” hasn’t changed since. Bequeath. To leave or give property to someone through a will. “Bequeath” is an Old English word that shares roots with seldom used “quoth” and the obsolete “quethe,” meaning “to say.” Surprisingly, the contemporary word “quote” evolved independently from the Latin. Canter. A horse's gait that is faster than a trot, but slower than a gallop. According to Visual Thesaurus, it referred to the speed at which pilgrims traveled to Canterbury Cathedral during the Middle Ages. Cue up/Queue up. These two phrasal verbs have distinct meanings. To cue up is to position recorded material to play from a certain point. “She cued up the raciest the part of the YouTube video.” Queue up is most common in British English and means to line up or place in line. “People continue to queue up at that fish-and-chips joint no matter what Yelp says.” Cyberbully. If it happens in real life, eventually it will happen online. And when it does, the word “cyber” will be slapped in front of it and ta-da!, we have a new coinage. This Internet/social-media–era coinage describes harassment using a cell phone or internet technology. Conjugate this one as you would any other verb: More than ten percent of schoolchildren are cyberbullied. Gobble up. The up makes this a phrasal verb, meaning to eat hastily or greedily. He gobbled up his dinner and went back for seconds before I even took a bite. Heart/♥. Popularized as a synonym for “love” with the 1970’s “I ♥ NY” ad campaign. The Oxford English Dictionary officially recognized “heart” as a verb in this sense when they added it to their dictionaries in 2011. Swear. According to the OED online, swear is the oldest verb in English (dating from around AD 688). Its original sense was to make a solemn declaration. In the 15th century it came to refer to offensive language, “as an extension of the idea of using a sacred name in an oath,” the OED says, adding that the Old English answer comes from the same root, and originally meant to rebut an accusation. The OED adds more fun facts about the phrase swear like a trooper: A trooper was originally a private soldier in a cavalry unit, and by the 18th century these soldiers had developed a reputation for coarse behavior and bad language. In the novel Pamela (1739–40), Samuel Richardson made use of the phrase, writing: “She curses and storms at me like a Trooper.”