15 Words You Might Not Know Could Be Used As Verbs

sKrisda/iStock via Getty Images
sKrisda/iStock via Getty Images

Shakespeare was well known for his linguistic inventiveness, and one of his favorite tricks was taking pre-existing words and reusing them as different parts of speech, a process variously known as semantic conversion, zero-derivation, or anthimeria. And, more often than not, that process involved using nouns as if they were verbs—in fact, Shakespeare was the first writer to use words like cake, hinge, blanket, elbow, champion, humor, lapse, and petition as verbs, which is well worth remembering next time you try elbowing someone out of the way, or championing their cause.

Not all of Shakespeare’s “verbed” inventions caught on, however, which is why you’re unlikely to hear anyone saying that they have barbered themselves (he used barber to mean “to dress or trim a person’s hair” in Antony & Cleopatra), or that they have scarfed (“wrapped around”), bonneted (“removed a hat as a mark of respect”), bassed (“spoken in a deep voice”), or estated (“bestowed or bequeathed an estate”). But these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to words you probably didn’t know could be used as verbs—so why not try dropping some of these into conversation?

1. Tiger

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, tiger has two verb senses—you can use it to mean “To act, behave, or walk to and fro, like a tiger,” or, for obvious reasons, “To mark like a tiger with lines or streaks of contrasting color.”

2. Moon

Using moon to mean exposing one's backside dates back to the 1960s, but long before then, moon was being used as a verb variously meaning to move listlessly, to pass your time idly, or to daydream. All these earlier senses likely derive from the same root as words like moonstruck and lunatic, referring to the idea that the moon can have deranging effects on people.

3. Crab

Crab can be used to mean to move sideways, to nit-pick or complain, and to beat with a cudgel, referring to a crab-stick, a cane or club made from the wood of the crab-apple tree.

4. Horse

As a verb, horse can of course be used to mean to fool around or make fun of—as in horseplay and horsing about—but feel free to also use it to mean you're carrying someone on your shoulders, or carrying something away forcefully, or working to the point of exhaustion.

5. Racoon

The English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell used the word raccoon (in the form of raccooning) as a verb meaning “to wander about at night.”

6. Magistrate

Both magistrate and master derive from the Latin verb magistrare, meaning to rule or govern. Probably based on that, in 17th century English, magistrate was used as a verb meaning to dominate or behave domineeringly.

7. Vandyke

The Flemish Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck was so well known for his portraits of aristocratic figures wearing ornately-cut lace collars (like King Charles I) that in the 1700s, that particular style of collar (and, in the case of Charles I, that particular style of facial hair) came to be known as a Vandyke. And, alluding to the undulating, in-and-out shape of the collars, you can also use the word vandyke as a verb meaning to walk or travel in a zigzag.

8. Honeycomb

Referring to the network of hexagonal “cells” in a beehive, you can use the word honeycomb to mean to weaken something by boring holes into it—either physically or metaphorically—or to become hollow or insubstantial.

9. Heaven

Heavening might sound like a clumsy modern invention, but heaven has been used as a verb since the 17th century, meaning to (metaphorically) transport to heaven—in other words, to make someone extremely happy.

10. Canary

A century before it began to be used as the name of a bright yellow bird (native to the Canary Islands), the canary was a lively dance (native to the Canary Islands). As a consequence, you can use it as a verb meaning to dance in a lively manner. The Canary Islands themselves, incidentally, are named after dogs (the name is derived from the Latin phrase Canariae Insulae, which means the "island of dogs.")

11. Liver

As a clipped form of deliver, you can use liver to mean to unload cargo, to surrender or hand over, or “to return to the person in authority a piece of work which one has finished.”

12. Spider

For understandable reasons, you can use spider to mean to ensnare or entrap—or, alternatively, to creep or walk like a spider.

13. Rebecca

As odd as it might sound, you can use the girl's name Rebecca as a verb meaning to destroy a gate. It derives from a series of protests against toll gates (and general economic hardship) in mid-19th century Wales.

14. Peter

Because St. Peter is said to hold the keys to Heaven, in 19th century slang, his name came to be used in all kinds of different senses referring to locked or unopenable items. (Perhaps thanks to that key ingredient in gunpowder, saltpeter, it referenced how to break into them as well). So a peter was a till or a safe, a peterman was a thief who steals baggage from vehicles, and a peter-hunter was a crowbar used to break the chains attaching luggage to carriages, a crime known as peter-claiming or the peter-drag. Similarly, as a verb you can use peter to mean “to use explosives,” or, should you ever need it, to blow the door off a safe.

15. Buttonhole

Probably derived from the image of forcing a button into a narrow hole—or, according to the OED, as a corruption of the term button-hold, meaning to grab someone by the buttons—you can used the word buttonhole to mean to engage someone in a tedious or longwinded conversation against his or her will.

This list was first published in 2016 and republished in 2019.

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BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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