According to Wikipedia:

In rhetoric, anthimeria […] involves using one part of speech as another part of speech, such as using a noun as if it were a verb: “The little old lady turtled along the road.” […] Other substitutions could include an adjective used as a noun, as in “She dove into the foaming wet,” interjection as verb, as in “Don't aha me!”, a verb as a noun, as in “Help! I need some eat!” and so on.

Anthimeria isn’t entirely a new word for me; I mentioned it in passing in 1999 in colum rrr, about rhetorical devices. But I feel like anthimeria has become a particularly useful concept in recent years, as the internet starts to weird language even further than it’s been weirded in the past.

…Well, I should qualify that; I’m not sure whether to say that phrases like “because internet” and “don’t @ me” and “all the feels” are anthimeria as such. They do seem to involve changing one part of speech into another (such as changing because from a conjunction to a preposition), but I feel like other things are going on along with those changes. But even so, I feel like anthimeria is a relevant concept.

(I went looking for what Language Log has to say about prepositional because, and I found a 2014 Pullum post about it—but he spends so much of the post calling lexicographers stupid brainless plagiarizing idiots that I was really put off by the post and don’t want to link to it.)

By the way, apparently the linguistic process of transforming a word from one part of speech into another is called conversion, zero derivation, or functional shift. (But I may be misusing those terms. I got them from an article titled “Linguistic Conversion in Grammar.”)

(The idea of parts of speech is itself a little bit muddy; for more on that, see column oo.)

2 Responses to “anthimeria”

  1. Jed

    Note to self: the words anthimeria and alethiometer are entirely different words. Don’t mix them up.

  2. Cosmo

    “apparently the linguistic process of transforming a word from one part of speech into another is called conversion, zero derivation…”

    Yep, these are terms I’ve been taught for this thing in my linguistics degree (anthimeria is not one I was taught (thank goodneess, there are more than enough Greek words to learn as it is!). In case anyone was wondering, it’s called “zero derivation” because this process of a word becoming another word class is more generally known as derivation — but usually that involves some kind of change to the word, like how making the noun “nation” into the adjective “national” involves adding the suffix -al. When this process can happen without any prefix, suffix, or other change to the original word, as you’re describing here, it’s this “zero” derivation because there’s been zero change to the word form itself.


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