Understanding Anthimeria in Language

Plays of Shakespeare

 Getty Images/duncan1890

"Anthimeria" is a rhetorical term for the creation of a new word or expression by using one part of speech or word class in place of another. For example, in the slogan for Turner Classic Movies, "Let's Movie," the noun "movie" is used as a verb.

In grammatical studies, anthimeria is known as a functional shift or conversion. The word comes from the Greek, meaning "one part for another."

Anthimeria and Shakespeare

In the National Review in 1991, Linda Bridges and William F. Rickenbacker discussed William Shakespeare's use of anthimeria and its impact on the English language.

"Anthimeria: Use of a word that is normally one part of speech in a situation that requires it to be understood as a different part of speech. In English, and this is one of its greatest virtues, almost any noun can be verbed. Indeed, one can read scarce a page of Shakespeare without running across some new verb hatched out of his teeming loin. 'To scarf,' for example, was the verb implied in Hamlet's speech, where he says, 'My sea-gown scarf'd about me.' 

Ben Yagoda wrote about Shakespeare and anthimeria in The New York Times in 2006.

"Lexical categories are quite useful. They make possible not only Mad Libs but also the rhetorical device anthimeria — using a word as a noncustomary part of speech — which is the reigning figure of speech of the present moment.

"That's not to say it's a new thing. In Middle English, the nouns "'duke' and 'lord' started to be used as verbs, and the verbs 'cut' and 'rule' shifted to nouns. Shakespeare was a pro at this; his characters coined verbs — 'season your admiration,' 'dog them at the heels' -- and such nouns as 'design,' 'scuffle' and 'shudder.'

"Less common shifts are noun to adjective (S.J. Perlman's 'Beauty Part'), adjective to noun (the Wicked Witch's 'I'll get you, my pretty') and adverb to verb (to down a drink).

"This 'functional shifting,' as grammarians call it, is a favorite target of language mavens, whose eyebrows rise several inches when nouns like 'impact' and 'access' are verbed."

Anthimeria in Advertising

Yagoda discussed the use of anthimeria in advertising in the "Chronicle of Higher Education" in 2016. The ubiquity of ads spreads the use of new words, well, like crazy.

"Ads using anthimeria are everywhere. They can be divided into several categories, and I’ll start with the most popular.

  • Adjective Into Noun
    'More Happy' — Sonos
    'Bring the Good' — Organic Valley Milk
    'Watch All the Awesome' — go90
    'Where Awesome Happens' — Xfinity
    'We Put the Good in Morning' — Tropicana
  • Noun Into Verb
    'Come TV With Us' — Hulu
    'How to Television' — Amazon
    'Let’s Holiday' — Skyy vodka
  • Adjective Into Adverb
    'Live Fearless' — Blue Cross Blue Shield
    'Build It Beautiful' — Squarespace

"I am second to no one in my appreciation for anthimeria and the way it gooses the English language. But at this point, it’s a lazy, played-out cliche, and any copywriters who continue to resort to it should be ashamed of themselves."

Examples of Anthimeria

  • Kate: He's still in the rec room, right?
    Hurley: I moved him to the boathouse. You just totally Scooby-Doo'd me, didn't you? — "Eggtown," "Lost," 2008
  • "I've often got the kid in my mind's eye. She's a dolichocephalic Trachtenberg, with her daddy's narrow face and Jesusy look." — Saul Bellow, "More Die of Heartbreak" (1987)
  • "Flaubert me no Flauberts. Bovary me no Bovarys. Zola me no Zolas. And exuberance me no exuberance. Leave this stuff for those who huckster in it and give me; I pray you, the benefits of your fine intelligence and your high creative faculties, all of which I so genuinely and profoundly admire." Thomas Wolfe, letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Calvin and Hobbes on Verbing:
    Calvin: I like to verb words.
    Hobbes: What?
    Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when "access" was a thing? Now it's something you do. It got verbed. Verbing weirds language.
    Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. — Bill Watterson, "Calvin and Hobbes"
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Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Anthimeria in Language." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-anthimeria-rhetoric-1689100. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Understanding Anthimeria in Language. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-anthimeria-rhetoric-1689100 Nordquist, Richard. "Understanding Anthimeria in Language." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-anthimeria-rhetoric-1689100 (accessed April 1, 2023).