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.

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

iStock
iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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What’s the Difference Between Forests, Woods, and Jungles?

Jui-Chi Chan/iStock via Getty Images
Jui-Chi Chan/iStock via Getty Images

If you're an English speaker, there’s a good chance you often use the words woods, forest, and jungle correctly without even thinking about it. Even if a patch of trees takes up a significant portion of your backyard, you probably wouldn’t consider it a forest; and you wouldn’t talk about the beautiful fall foliage in New England’s jungles. Based on those examples, it seems like woods are smaller than forests, and jungles aren’t found in colder climates. This isn’t wrong—but there's more to it than that.

According to Merriam-Webster, a forest is “a dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract,” while woods are “a dense growth of trees usually greater in extent than a grove and smaller than a forest.” The reason we consider forests to be larger than woods dates back to the Norman rule of Great Britain in 1066, when a forest was a plot of land owned by the Crown that was large enough to accommodate game for royal hunting parties. Whether that land contained trees or not was essentially irrelevant.

These days, scientists and land managers definitely consider the presence of trees necessary for land to be classified as a forest. To set it apart from woods, or woodland, it usually has to meet certain density qualifications, which are different depending on whom you ask.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), a forest must cover about 1.24 acres of land, and its canopy cover—the amount of land covered by the treetops—must exceed 10 percent of the acreage [PDF]. “Other wooded land” must also span about 1.24 acres, but its canopy cover is between 5 and 10 percent. In a nutshell, the FAO thinks forests and woods are the same size, but forests are more dense than woods. Australia, on the other hand, employs plant ecologist Raymond Specht’s classification system for its vegetation, in which any tree-populated land with less than 30 percent canopy cover is a woodland, and anything more dense than that is a forest.

Unlike forests, jungles don’t have specific scientific classifications, because the word jungle isn’t really used by scientists. According to Sciencing, it’s a colloquial term that usually denotes what scientists refer to as tropical forests.

Tropical forests are located around the Equator and have the highest species diversity per area in the world. Since they’re so densely populated with flora and fauna, it makes sense that both Merriam-Webster and the Encyclopedia Britannica describe jungles as “tangled” and “impenetrable.” They’re bursting with millions of plants and animals that are different from what we see in temperate and boreal forests to the north.

Because most of us aren’t in the habit of clarifying which type of forest we’re talking about in casual conversation, it’s no surprise that we often refer to the temperate forests we see in our own climate simply as forests, which we differentiate from those rich, overgrown tropical territories to the south by calling them jungles.

To summarize, forests are historically and colloquially considered to be larger than woods, and scientifically considered to be more dense. Jungles are technically forests, too, since jungle is a casual word for what scientists call a tropical forest.

And, all differences aside, it’s relaxing to spend time in any of them—here are 11 scientific reasons why that’s true.

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