Friday, 25 January 2013

verbify(body part) =

In many languages, the word "kiss" has nothing to do with the word "mouth". In Finnish it of course has.

We have a grammatical construct for verbifying body parts and other nouns. This is how it works:

verbify(mouth) = kiss (suu - suudella)
verbify(hand) = shake hands (käsi - kätellä)
verbify(eye) = look at something carelessly (silmä - silmäillä)
verbify(head) = deduce (pää - päätellä)
verbify(foot) = take a small walk, get some fresh air (jalka - jaloitella)
verbify(finger) = touch lightly (sormi - sormeilla)

Logical, right? How about these:

verbify(thumb) = tamper with (peukalo - peukaloida)
verbify(nerve) = fret (hermo - hermoilla)
verbify(knee) = zigzag (polvi - polveilla)
verbify(wing) = freeride (siipi - siipeillä)
verbify(jaw) = make bad puns (leuka - leukailla)
verbify(cunt) = piss off verbally (vittu - vittuilla)
verbify(ass) = be annoying / screw up (perse - perseillä)

And a very recent addition to the Finnish language:
verbify(boob) = breastfeed (tissi - tissitellä)

Verbified body parts also exist in English:
to hand: "can you hand me that paper"
to mouth: "he mouthed two words"
to eye: "X said she eyed Y for the role"
to stomach: "that's quite hard to stomach"
to cock: "he cocked his head to the side"

Before you rush to comment "But that's not a verbified body part!!1!", I know! This tongue-in-cheek addition was necessary to maintain the pseudoscientific touch of the blog.


  1. Testing comments. Commenting should work! Comments are not moderated!

  2. Also, Anonymous comments should be enabled now.

  3. Some German verbified body parts seem to need a prefix like "be-" or "um-", there's not really a fixed construct. We came up with
    Mund - munden (mouth, old-fashioned for "to like the taste of")
    Fuß - füßeln (foot, "to play footsies" apparently, according to
    Haar - haaren (hair, to shed hair)
    Schulter - schultern (just like English: shoulder, to shoulder)
    Herz - herzen (heart, old-fashioned for "to hug")
    Auge - beäugen (eye, to eye)
    Finger - befingern (finger, to finger)
    Arm - umarmen (arm, to hug)
    Hals - aufhalsen (neck, to foist on someone)
    Knie - beknieen (knee, to beg someone)
    Arsch - verarschen (arse, to take the piss)
    Brust - sich brüsten (chest, to boast)

    And O. also mentioned an expression an ex-colleague of him used all the time. We doubt it's in the Duden though:
    Pimmel - anpimmeln (dick, to annoy)

    1. That's awesome! I tried to think of some body part verbifications in German, but I couldn't come up with any. From your list, I only knew "umarmen" beforehand.

  4. It would seem just about any body part from head to toe (literally) has a related verb in english:
    head, eye, mouth, lip, tongue, throat, neck, cheek, nose, chin, beard, bone, skull, ear, breast, stomach, belly, gut, heart, muscle, shoulder, arm, hand, knuckle, finger, thumb, elbow, hip, leg, knee, shin, foot, heel, toe ... are all verbs according to Merriam Webster :)

    Not verbs: brow, hair, lung, ankle, wrist, calf, buttock, ass, penis, vagina

    The finnish construction is interesting though.. is it only used for body parts, or elsewhere too?

    1. Thanks for your list!

      I have no idea what the following would mean as verbs:

      lip, tongue, throat, cheek, nose, chin, beard, skull, ear, breast, belly, gut, heart, muscle, shoulder, knuckle, thumb, elbow, hip, leg, knee, shin, foot, heel, toe..

      (Bone, lol).

      Though, "long legged" is an err.. adjective? so we could say that "leg" is a verb which means "equip with legs", and similarly for many of the other verbs.

      The Finnish verbification can be used for non-body parts, too, e.g.,

      verbify(sky) = wonder in an unproductive manner
      verbify(statue) = stand around doing nothing

    2. Honestly, half of them I barely even know what they mean. Plenty are archaic. And these are all lexicalized, as in, they have a dictionary entry.

      "Long legged" is technically a past participle, so the meaning of the verb does not necessarily apply. Indeed, the only meaning of leg in Merriam-Webster is "to use the legs in walking; especially : run". Also, you can't in general say that "to {body part}" is the same as "equip with {body part}", it can mean quite the opposite, such as "bone" (remove the bones), "toe" (use the toe in a certain manner) or completely metaphorically as in "cheek" (to speak rudely or impudently to).

      But then, there's the whole area of productive verbification, where you can take just about any word and use it as a verb.
      - "Would you cable my computer?"
      - "I'd rather window the damn thing!"
      - "Stop! You'd just computer the window!"

      In other languages, such as German or Finnish, you'd more likely do this with verbfifier affixes. However, some of these affixes are productive, so that you can use them actively on random words, and some are visible only in existing words, but would be weird if you used them on other things.

      Thus my question: Is this specific verbifier productive, so that it can turn spaceship or computer into verbs, or would you use a different affix for that?

    3. In Finnish we have several verbifying suffixes, but not all are applicable to all nouns.


      käsi -> kätellä (hand, shake hands)
      käsi -> käsitellä (hand, handle)
      käsi -> käsittää (hand, comprehend)
      tietokone -> tietokoneistaa (computer, computerize)

      ... now we're going to a really kitchen-linguistical area, I have no idea how all these different verbifying suffixes relate to each other, and if the "käsittää" and "tietokoneistaa" actually have the same suffix or two different suffixes. I think they're different. And also "pää -> päätellä", not sure if that's the same suffix than "käsitellä" or the same as "kätellä".

      In other words, we have several ways of turning nouns into verbs with suffixes, and since the nouns are so irregular, even a native speaker cannot easily categorize the verbs according to the suffix.