Another pet peeve. Nounifying the word "ask"


Sorry about not blogging, my days are filled with meetings trying to finish up our LH beta2 features – I can’t wait until people see this stuff, it’s that cool.

But because I’m in meetings back-to-back (my calender looks like a PM’s these days), I get subjected to a bunch of stuff that I just hate.

In particular, one “meme” that seems to have taken off here at Microsoft is nounifying the word “ask“.

I can’t tell how many times I’ve been in a meeting and had someone say: “So what are your teams asks for this feature?” or “Our only ask is that we have the source process ID added to this message”.

For the life of me, I can’t see where this came from, but it seems like everyone’s using it.

What’s wrong with the word “request”?  It’s a perfectly good noun and it means the exact same thing that a nounified “ask” means.

 

Comments (61)

  1. Ouch.

    I’ve never been exposed to that, but I can certainly see why that’d be annoying.

    It seems somewhat unstoppable, the overgrown "nounification" 🙂 of words.

    I’m not sure how I’d respond to that type of impaired usage of the language, but I suspect that a simple, "Pardon Me?" along with "I don’t understand the use of the word ‘ask’ in that context–Could you clarify what specifically you are saying?" … A couple of those type responses, and "new word geeks" could get the message.

    eeesshh.

  2. Ron says:

    Larry,

    On a related note, do you know why a lot of MS employees like to start their sentences with "So"?

    I have observed this in the Channel 9 videos, TechEd and PDC.

    Thanks.

  3. Tarzilla says:

    Actually what I hate even more are people that pronounce ‘ask’ as ‘axe’. Whenever I hear "I axed you a question…" in a movie or TV show, I want to scream out loud "It’s ASKED! Not AXED!" Of course I wouldn’t say it that politely either…

  4. James says:

    "What’s wrong with the word "request"? It’s a perfectly good noun and it means the exact same thing that a nounified "ask" means."

    Ah, but ‘ask’ is one less syllable to cope with 🙂

  5. Josh says:

    Of course making verbifying nouns has also excessificated. As Calvin one said, "Verbing wierds language."

  6. Brian Hoyt says:

    An ask is informal and can easily be dismissed or denied. A request is formal and must be denied formally. At least that is how I would look at it from how you describe.

  7. John Dowdell says:

    I understand the reaction to neologisms… sometimes it feels like an in-group/out-group marker….

    Maybe the term we’re seeking is "nominalization"?

    http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_1861683578/nominalize.html

    jd/mm

  8. Mike Dunn says:

    Gawd I hate that. Whenever I hear someone (who’s not a MS person, of course) use that, I put on a puzzled look and say something like, "the what… sorry, it sounded like you said ‘the ass’". That brings the response "no, the assskkk", to which I can say "oh, you mean the request, ok".

    Yeah, so it’s a bit passive-aggressive. I don’t care. 😉

  9. Scot Boyd says:

    Hadn’t Wall Street nounified ‘ask’ long before anybody at Microsoft got around to it?

  10. Julie Lerman says:

    ha! I ranted about this one a while ago too. Glad to see I’m not the only one that it irks. http://www.thedatafarm.com/blog/PermaLink.aspx?guid=07e346a4-9a1b-401a-b4cc-da2416399d36

    🙂

  11. Herb says:

    I see what Brian is saying, I don’t agree; if the difference was ask vs. require, I would. "Require" has a very different meaning, but ‘request’ and ‘ask’ appear to be interchangable, and neither should be used as a noun.

  12. Justin Sippel says:

    That does sound annoying. Toss it in the bin with "offline", "double-click", and the rest of them.

  13. kfarmer says:

    Actually, the "So"-thing may be a Northwest-thing. I grew up within driving distance of Seattle, and I’ve noticed we have some peculiarities, language-wise.

    I didn’t start noticing until my HS English teacher begged me long ago not to append an "s" to "anyway".

    Well, there was also the strange absense of "r" in "Washington", and the way people from .. elsewhere .. pronounced "Oregon" as if they were trying to say "Oregano".

    I’m still trying to figure out how "espresso" keeps getting written and pronounced as "expresso": there’s nothing fast about it.

  14. Brooks Moses says:

    express, v., squeeze out (juice, air; from, out of).

    Unless I’m mistaken, that’s essentially the same word as the root of the Italian "espresso", and so it’s a perfectly sensible anglicization to follow the root over and get "expresso". It doesn’t have anything to do with "fast".

  15. Simon Cooke says:

    I feel kind of the same way about Microsoft use of the word "story".

    As in, "No, it’s not a goddamn story! A story is something I sit down to read at the end of a hard day, while I’m soaking in the bathtub. You’re talking about a plan!"

    Although I think Asks is much worse. Every time I hear someone who has been through the Microsoft mill as of late, I just shake my head in disbelief at how stupid someone can be that they mangle the english language in such a way. And then I realized: even though MS people are smart, they’re still people – and people do really dumb things en-masse.

  16. oldnewthing says:

    In my experience, "ask" means more than "request". It’s more like "requirement" or "demand". Which belies the politeness behind the verb "to ask".

    And I hate the word, too.

  17. Mat Hall says:

    "It’s a perfectly good noun and it means the exact same thing that a nounified "ask" means."

    While "ask" as a noun sounds a bit awkward now, language has been doing that sort of thing since we started banging rocks together and grunting and it never did anyone any harm. If it sticks then before long it will stop sounding weird, and eventually it’ll only be etymologists and philologists who remember that it wasn’t *always* a noun.

    A prime example is the word "quiz". It’s now a noun and a verb and has an adjective form and means "an informal test", but a couple of hundred years ago "quiz" meant "an odd or eccentric person", mutated into "to interrogate", and finally got turned into a noun as well as a verb.

    Anyway, the long and the short of it is that insisting that words never shift in usage, meaning or part of speech is futile, always has been futile, and will remain futile until long after English bears little relation to its current form. After all, only a few hundred years ago we all talked like this:

    http://www.mugss.org/comedy/injokes/chaucer.shtml/

  18. Mat Hall says:

    "and finally got turned into a noun" should of course be "and finally got turned into a different noun"…

    (Why in this day and age people write comment systems without a preview button is beyond me. 🙂

  19. Ian Nelson says:

    I felt the same annoyances when people started verbifying the word "action". As in "I’ll action that for you right now". What’s wrong with "do"!? Gah!

  20. D. Philippe says:

    Well, if you’re going to rant against people’s "asks" you can’t very well go around using the word "nounify," can you…

  21. amotif says:

    "Ask" as a noun would definitely bug me. The (horribly wrong) idiom that is going to give me an aneurysm some day is "[Something] *needs fixed*." Gah!

  22. D. Philippe, do you have a better word for

    "the action of turning a verb into a noun"?

    Yes, I made it up on the spot (it’s sort-of the opposite of verify), but…

  23. Tim Smith says:

    I have always wondered what happened to the word "well". Maybe I just lost touch, but it seemed that one day I woke up and "well" dropped off the face of the earth.

  24. Norman Diamond says:

    > Nounifying

    You mean nouning. Any noun can be verbed. After verbing it can be renouned. Any verb can be nouned. After nouning it can be reverbed.

    Adverbs are less powerful. Most can only be deadverbed, though folklore has it that some were proverbed.

  25. I believe the word for the act of using a verb as a noun is "gerundize". Of course there is a gerund fpr the word, which is "gerund". Both of which ought to really piss you off!

    To be able to gerundise is actually quite a powerful feature of the English language. After all, I bet you don’t get pissed off when you use linked _lists_ do you?

  26. peter says:

    How about all you Americans that use "ya’ll". What the hell is with that eh?

  27. Tim Smith says:

    Y’all is just a Southern US version of plural you. Different regions in the US have different plural versions of you. Most of them have roots in the British Empire.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ya%27ll

  28. scyost says:

    I think the number of asks one can request is proportional to the amount of spend available.

  29. I’ll take a reverbed noun over a renouned verb any day. Go boogie!

  30. If y’all have to ask, y’all can’t afford it.

  31. Beware of creeping gerundization.

  32. Jonathan says:

    I hate "ask (n.)" too. I like the use of "story" though. I can’t think of a better way to say: "The .NET framework doesn’t have a good story for audio/video" (taken from some blog).

  33. ElBiggus says:

    "…gerundization…"

    I think "gerunding" would be preferable — the use of the -ise (or even worse, -ize) as a suffix to form a verb from a noun is ugly.

    Not only does it look and sound daft, it’s very rarely needed; very few existing verb forms of nouns have them — "run" is a noun and verb, "seat" is a noun and verb, "mortgage" is a noun and verb, and so forth — so why people feel a need to use it when forming new verbs is beyond me. Context is enough to deduce that the phrase "I’m going to gerund these verbs" is using "gerund" as a verb, so why bother with sticking something on the end?

    Still, if people want to stupidise language I’m not going to complaintise too much; language is always changising and I dont want to impedimentise it… 🙂

  34. Frederik Slijkerman says:

    Regarding pronouncing (or even writing!) espresso as ‘expresso’, I always say, in Dutch: "Zeg je dat expres zo" which means ‘Do you say it like that on purpose?’ 😉

  35. James says:

    To quote my favorite movie…

    "No man, No, I believe you’d get your ass kicked for something like that."

  36. Jeffrey Whitney says:

    The entire mass of Geek-Speak Cyber-Marketing lingo just drives me insane! People think they’re part of something special by mutilating the language this way.

    Making Verbs into Nouns (using the word ‘churn’ as a noun) or Phrases into Nouns! "Microsoft’s Latest ‘Go-To-Market’ strategy…"

    I used to work for a boss, (sorry Jay), who was hep to all the latest neo-linguistic Market-speak. I can’t even remember half the stuff he said but it always drove me crazy.

    In addition, I HATE it when anyone uses the phrase "in this space," or uses "space" when they mean domain. "We’ve been making deep in roads into providing help to developers in the Java space." Puke!

    Most things are cyclical in nature. I’m waiting for the day when marketing types realize they sound stupid and actually start paying attention to proper English usage.

  37. Tim Dawson says:

    "Story" is indeed horrible used in this way. A good way of saying the .NET framework doesn’t have a good story when it comes to audio/video, is to say the .NET framework doesn’t support audio/video. Which is how it is.

  38. Carlos says:

    Re Jeffrey Whitney

    Churn, a thing for making butter, comes from Old English.

    Churn, a churning action or sensation, was coined in the late 19th Century.

    Churn as a noun isn’t new.

  39. What about verbifying noun? 🙂

  40. Derek says:

    "Nounify" is probably more exact in this case than "gerundize" or "to gerund". A gerund in English typically (always?) refers to the present participle (-ing ending) used as a noun. e.g. Running is fun. Running is a gerund.

    Nounify would tend to be broader, including all the ways a verb could be used as a noun. Ironically, being broader makes it more exact in this instance. (Or more correct, anyway.)

  41. Jonathan says:

    My gripe is at the word "normalcy". I noticed it emerging in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.

    "New Yorkers are hoping for a return to normalcy."

    People, the word should be "normality"! I blame 24 hour news stations who seem to be trying to cram as much into their time slots as possible, therefore dropping syllables wherever possible.

  42. Jonathan says:

    I’m sorry – did you really say "nounifying"? Surely you have to be joking? 🙂

    In case you’re really serious (surely not!), I can highly recommend that you look in a dictionary:

    http://tinyurl.com/d8doo

    This is also a good one:

    http://tinyurl.com/c2tep

  43. Brooks Moses says:

    "Return to normalcy" was Warren G. Harding’s presidental campaign slogan from the early part of last century; the OED quotes a 1929 statement that "If ‘normalcy’ is ever to become an accepted word it will presumably be because the late President Harding did not know any better" — and it seems that that has indeed come to pass.

    Meanwhile, the OED traces "ask (n.)" to the 1200s, though it doesn’t seem to have been particularly common. The current draft version has entries for the modern usage, which seems to have mostly been of the form "a big ask" or "huge ask"; the earliest form they found of it relates to a sports column in a 1987 Sydney newspaper, and the other quotes also seem to largely be sporting-related.

    Larry can perhaps take perverse comfort in the fact that there’s a second meaning of "ask" as a noun: it’s an old Scottish (and north-English) word for a newt.

  44. My bad! I’ll _so_ stop saying that.

  45. Colin says:

    My response to situations like this is to say, "See, you’re going to have to use English when you talk to me, because I don’t speak <insert derogatory term>."

  46. Mike Y. says:

    Useful memes don’t have a readily available alternative, so new words/usages such as "offline" and "double-click" are acceptable to me.

    Similarly, "Doh!", expresses something more deeply than just "oops" to anyone who watches The Simpsons.

    In contrast, I shudder when I hear "incentivize" when "to motivate" or "to encourage" works so much better.

    Using "ask" as a noun when the word "request" is available just shows a poor command of the English language, and I humbly "ask" Microsoft to cease and desist.

  47. Brooks Moses says:

    Jonathan is, technically, correct — according to the OED of his second tinyurl link (which, I’ll note, is a fairly old dictionary and is not yet complete for usages after 1920 or so!), the word is _nounize_.

    This is not a significant distinction. The OED is a recorder of usage, not an arbiter of "correctness" (whatever that means), and almost certainly _nounify_ will be entered in it whenever they get around to that part of the update. In the interim, the fact that _nounize_ is in there serves to illustrate that (a) people have been verbizing the word "noun" for over a century, and (b) fashions have changed slightly (but meaninglessly) on the particular way of doing so.

  48. mike says:

    Here’s a comment from Robert Burchfield, who was the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and a man whose business it was to document linguistic change:

    "Of all forms of change, linguistic change is one of the hardest to accept. A country is propped up by its language. Disturbance of the system by the loss of meaning (for example, the traditional sense of the word gay) or by the threatened disappearance of a useful distinction (for example, disinterested taking over the territory of uninterested) brings more grief, it often seems, than the death of an elderly acquaintance. One is seen as inevitable, the other resistible. The sense of linguistic deprivation is unmistakable.

    When you are feeling downcast about the latest disturbances to the language — and of course they are numerous — it is a salutary experience to reread a Victorian classic and re-examine its vocabulary and syntax."

  49. Stu Smith says:

    I don’t like it either, but…

    It’s been suggested that English is becoming ‘place positional’, in that words are changing from being either nouns or verbs, but rather noun or verb status is inferred from usage and placement in the sentence.

    It’s rather like the difference between Roman and Arabic number systems.

  50. Chris says:

    You could always respond by using an even more ridiculous ‘noun.’ For example:

    "Our key asks…well, that depends on what your key whats are and who the key who’s are. If your whos do the whats then there’s nothing left to ask."

    Or you maybe:

    "The key ascii’s run from 0 to 255 (or was it 251). They’re a standard mapping for the roman alphabet with some extensions for accented characters and some funky symbols, nul’s and beeps you can use to make askee art."

  51. moi says:

    I understand that it’s sometimes annoying but as someone else pointed out it’s part of the natural process of the language that is a constantly evolving thing and there’s nothing we can do about it.

    I personally don’t like this evolution of "ask" only because it doesn’t sound very pleasantly to my ears but that’s the only reason.

    What I really hate are not syntaxic fads but more dangerous things , cultural imitation leads to people using stupid, pseudo-intellectual concepts such as the oh-so-1995 concept of "meme".

    Oh and the whole concept of "blogs" should be burnt to the ground too.

    These are the dangerous thing.

  52. Derek Smootz says:

    I think there is a distinction to be made between the evolution of words like "gay" or "quiz" (which, as far as I can tell, changed meaning gradually and in the public realm) and the more sudden misuse of "ask" and "leverage" (which seem to run like a virus through the business community – they creep in, make people sick for a while, and then fade away 😉 The acceptance/rejection pattern in the latter group strikes me as similar to that of teenage slang.

  53. J says:

    I thought I was alone in hating this misuse of the word ‘ask’. Perhaps it’s only a MS thing? – It was an email I got today which led me here.

    …"Can you send me on a copy of the mail you received so that I can help **** with the reporting ask?"

    Horrible!! I HATE IT!!!

    Almost as much as I hate;

    – ‘on the radar’ (off the radar, fell off the radar etc..etc..)

    – ‘talk to it’ (instead of talk through it)

    – ‘blurb’ (add some blurb to that)

    – ‘deck’ (in reference to a powerpoint)

    – ‘ping him/her’

    – ‘working from home’ – liar. 🙂

    One of the other posts reminded me;

    – ‘space’ (as in "he’s moving into the <dept> space") So everyone is floating around in some sort of void in there?

    Probably.

  54. KD says:

    You also see this with wins.

    "What are our key wins ?"