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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Wayfair
Wayfair

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More Than 650 New Words Have Been Added to Dictionary.com—Here Are 50 of Them

Online dictionaries can add words a little more quickly than their printed counterparts.
Online dictionaries can add words a little more quickly than their printed counterparts.
Pisit Heng, Pexels

Back in April, Dictionary.com updated its lexicon with a number of terms that had sprung up seemingly overnight, including COVID-19, novel coronavirus, and even rona. Now, as a testament to just how fast language evolves, the online dictionary has added 650 more.

Though the terms aren’t all quite as new as rona, they’ve all recently become prevalent enough to warrant their own dictionary entries. And they’re not all related to public health crises, either. New slang includes amirite, a truncated version of Am I right?; and zhuzh, a verb meaning “to make (something) more lively and interesting, stylish, or appealing, as by a small change or addition” (it can also be used as a noun).

There’s a handful of phrases that describe pets used for service or therapy—assistance animal, comfort animal, and emotional support animal, among others—and a couple that help capture the sometimes bizarre landscape of modern parenting. Sharent, a portmanteau of share and parent, refers to the act of chronicling your child’s life on social media (or a parent who does it); and extravagant methods of publicly announcing an unborn baby’s gender are now so widespread that gender reveal is a dictionary-recognized term. Some terms address racist behaviors—whitesplain and brownface, for example—while others reflect how certain people of color describe their specific ethnicities; Afro-Latina, Afro-Latino, and Afro-Latinx each have an entry, as do Pinay, Pinoy, and Pinxy.

In addition to the new entries, Dictionary.com has also added 2100 new definitions to existing entries and revised another 11,000 existing definitions—making it the site’s largest update ever. Black in reference to ethnicity is now a separate entry from the color black, and lexicographers have also combed through the dictionary to capitalize Black wherever it appears in other entries. They’ve also replaced homosexuality—now often considered an outdated clinical term with a negative connotation—with gayness in other entries, and addict with a person addicted to or a habitual user of. In short, people are constantly making language more inclusive and sensitive, and Dictionary.com is working to represent those changes in the dictionary.

Take a look at 50 of Dictionary.com’s new words and phrases below, and learn more about the updates here.

  1. Af
  1. Afro-Latina
  1. Afro-Latino
  1. Afro-Latinx
  1. Agile development
  1. Amirite
  1. Assistance animal
  1. Battle royale
  1. Bombogenesis
  1. Brownface
  1. Cap and trade
  1. Comfort animal
  1. Community management
  1. Companion animal
  1. Conservation dependent
  1. Conservation status
  1. Contouring
  1. Critically endangered
  1. DGAF
  1. Dunning-Kruger effect
  1. Ecoanxiety
  1. Emissions trading
  1. Emotional labor
  1. Emotional support animal
  1. Empty suit
  1. Extinct in the wild
  1. Filipinx
  1. Filipina
  1. Gender reveal
  1. GOAT
  1. Hodophobia
  1. Information bubble
  1. Ish
  1. Jabroni
  1. Janky
  1. MeToo
  1. Natural language processing
  1. Nothingburger
  1. Off-grid
  1. Pinay
  1. Pinoy
  1. Pinxy
  1. Ratio
  1. Sharent
  1. Swole
  1. Techlash
  1. Therapy animal
  1. Whitesplain
  1. World-building
  1. Zhuzh