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Architecting a Verb?

Ammon Shea recently spent a year of his life reading the OED from start to finish. Over the next few months he will be posting weekly blogs about the insights, gems, and thoughts on language that came from this experience. His book, Reading the OED, has been published by Perigee, so go check it out in your local bookstore. In the post below Ammon reflects on an article he saw in The New York Times Book Review.

Last Sunday, in the New York Times, I read a book reviewer taking an author to task for her word use. The reviewer stated that “the last time I checked the American Heritage Dictionary, in spite of how computer trade journalists might choose to use the word, “architect” was not recognized as a verb”.

First, putting aside the obvious slander against computer trade journalists (who themselves would likely not claim to be arbiters of what is recognized in language), are there perhaps some other sources that might recognize “architect” as a verb? Surprisingly enough, there are – both the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Third International list “architect” as a verb.

The OED provides citations from as far back as 1813, quoting a letter from Keats, in which he writes “This was architected thus By the great Oceanus.” The OED also specifies that the word, in addition to being used as a verb, is used in a figurative and transferred sense. Perhaps those computer trade journalists were engaging their poetic whimsy and quoting this early nineteenth century versifier.

Webster’s Third does not provide dates for their citation (“the book is not well architected”), but it is from the Times Literary Supplement, and so perhaps the aforementioned computer trade journalists were simply imitating the writing style of some other, more lofty and intellectual publication.

It is always a little bit risky to make a claim that something is not a word, or not used thusly, or has never been a certain part of speech. First, there is simply the possibility that you are wrong. But also, if you spend enough time looking through dictionaries you are just as likely as not to find one or two which contradict whatever position you’ve so boldly staked out. Of course, the flip side of this is that if someone states that you are wrong on the meaning of a word, you can usually find some source that will back up your position.

I’ll bet that the hordes of angry computer trade journalists who read that comment are right now sharpening their pens and rifling through their dictionaries, searching about for the perfect vicious rejoinder to refute this review.

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Recent Comments

  1. Scott Belyea

    “The reviewer stated that “the last time I checked the American Heritage Dictionary, in spite of how computer trade journalists might choose to use the word, “architect” was not recognized as a verb”.”

    Any statement starting “The last time I checked…” can safely be ignored. It’s just someone trying to be all snotty and superior.

    Beyond that, unless you’re a rock-ribbed and diehard prescriptivist, listening and reading might well be a better way to assess changing usage than simply picking up one dictionary.

  2. Karl Jones

    Any statement starting “The last time I checked…” can safely be ignored. It’s just someone trying to be all snotty and superior.

    Agreed. Similarly, any sentence that begins with the phrase “See, …” can be safely ignored as patronizing dogma.

    – Karl Jones

  3. Anonymous

    I’ll bet that the hordes of angry computer trade journalists who read that comment are right now sharpening their pens and rifling through their dictionaries, searching about for the perfect vicious rejoinder to refute this review.

    “Rifling”, or do you mean riffling?

  4. Marc M. Cohen

    Did Ammon Shea write this blog posting? Whoever wrote it is either an idiot, a liar, or both.

    You state in the blog:

    The OED provides citations from as far back as 1813, quoting a letter from Keats, in which he writes “This was architected thus By the great Oceanus.” The OED also specifies that the word, in addition to being used as a verb, is used in a figurative and transferred sense.

    I took our Oxford English Dictionary (OED) off the shelf, looked up architect, and it became immediately apparent that the author of this blog was taking unacceptable liberties and was extremely careless and even reckless in his citation.

    But before I go into detail, let’s make clear that just because one poet used a form of a word one time in a poem (NOT a letter), that does not make correct usage in non-fiction prose in a professional context.

    Here is what the OED actually says on pages 434 and 435:

    Architect: All the definitions of architect are as a noun — NO VERBS. THE BLOG IS WRONG.

    The first citation of the word architect in English is from “1563 Shute Archit. [title of a book] A ij b, John Shute Painter and Architecte.” SO THE EARLIEST DATE STATED IN THE BLOG IS WRONG BY 250 YEARS.

    The OED cites architect as part of two verb form variants. The first is Architecturalize: to adapt to architectural purposes or design 1879 G. Scott Lect. Archit. II. 139 To architecturalize the arched opening.

    This usage is rare and one of a kind; as you can see from the citation it is both cumbersome and redundant.

    Finally the citation from Keats reads:

    Architecture, v. rare. [f. prec. sub] To design as architect. a 1821 Keats Fingal’s Cave (D.) This was architectur’d thus By the great Oceanus.

    This actual quotation shows that THE BLOG IS WRONG on many counts.

    1. Keats wrote the poem circa 1821. According to one of his biographies, he visited Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa in the Hebrides in 1818, so he could not have written it in 1813 in any case. THE BLOG IS WRONG ABOUT THE DATE.

    2. The quotation is not from a letter it is from a poem. THE BLOG IS WRONG AGAIN.

    3. The citation is not for architect as a verb but architectur’d. THE BLOG IS WRONG.

    4. Even the OED states that architectur’d is a rare verb, which for the OED — which is packed with obscure and arcane words given as ordinary usage — is going very far to show how exceptional it is.

    5. The blog claims that the OED says that Architect is “in addition to being used as a verb, is used in a figurative and transferred sense.” What does the OED say?

    Architecture, . . .
    5. transf. or fig. Construction or structure generally; both abst. and concr. SO, WHAT IS THE BLOG’S POINT? These usages are rather obvious and have nothing to do with verbs.

    This blog is nothing more than further proof that at least 95% of everything on the web is pure excrement. This situation is what I call the infodemic. Just because someone posts something online does not make it accurate or true — quite the contrary in the majority of postings

  5. Ammon Shea

    Dear Marc,
    Thank you for taking both the time to read the blog post and to comment on it. I believe that I can answer some of the issues that you have taken umbrage with.
    You seem to have consulted the 1933 1st edition of the OED, in which the word ‘architect’ does indeed appear on page 435. However, I was quoting from the 2nd edition (published in 1989) of the OED. The two editions are rather different in many ways.
    In the 2nd edition the OED provides five citations for ‘architect’ used as a verb, in sources ranging from Keats to Harper’s Magazine – it is not simply a word that was used once by a poet in a fit of whimsy.
    The word is given its own headword, and with no usage warnings.
    You are correct that the date that I provided for the citation from Keats is wrong – he used the word in 1818, not 1813. However, it was used in a letter. On July 23 of that year he wrote to his brother, Thomas, and in that letter was a poem that used the word architect as a verb.
    Aside of that mistaken date I do not believe that I have misquoted anything else that is contained in the OED. But if you would care to examine the second edition of that work and let me know I would be glad to hear from you.

  6. John Reed

    Ammon Shea architected a facial of Marc M. Cohen.

  7. NS

    Dear Shea
    this word architect as a verb has made me crazy especially that i do like it as a verb and that it became part of our comany slogan (namely: architecting)but with reading all these contradictions, am afraid that we might look as not knowing english. so, is it safe to use architecting and go public or will people make fun of it?
    please do not publish my mail
    thanks
    ns

  8. Tim

    While I’m not any sort of linguist I do happen to have over 40 years of proficiency using (abusing?) American English.

    It’s worth noting that anyone who would argue that ‘architect’ cannot embrace the proposed (and already oft-used) verb-form ‘architecting’ should also be willing to argue that ‘engineer’ should not be valid in it’s formal verb-form ‘engineering’.

    As those two paradigms are virtually identical (even largely down unto definitions), to me this is all merely a pointless topic of semantic preference and not a worthy argument.

  9. Aidan O'Donnell

    This is a very interesting blog post, with some thought-provoking responses.

    I accept that “architect” can be used as a verb, quite legitimately, but I can’t help finding it clumsy. The words “architected” or “architecting” seem to denote a perfectly innocent noun ruthlessly twisted into a verb. Their counterpart, “engineering”, doesn’t appear to suffer in this way, since “engineering” makes a perfectly serviceable noun in its own right (e.g. “heavy engineering and construction”).

    “Architecting” used as a company name or slogan would work well, being a slightly unusual word and therefore somewhat distinctive.

    As Calvin and Hobbes remind us, “Verbing weirds language”. For an inspired elaboration of this delightful phrase, point your Googles at “First they came for the verbs”.

    -Aidan

  10. Mike

    As a licensed Architect I think the use of “architect” as a verb is an improper use of the word as many have indicated. “Architecting” and “architected” are like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It might be crammed in but just doesn’t fit! Also the spell checker for this blog post doesn’t recognize the word as being proper either. There are many better words/verbs that convey the intent without bastardizing the word “architect”.

  11. Greg Pearson

    In my opinion the use of the word architect as a verb grates beacause originally the word was meant to describe nouns – either an occupation (architect) or a discipline (architecture).

    A parallel maybe an artist. An artist paints, sculps, weaves, etc., but to my knowledge an artist does not ‘artist’ or carry out any ‘artisting’.

    Another point is how one would define the verb architecting without referring to the noun. One could mention designing I suppose, but if architecting is just verbalising a noun then it could be argued ‘that having an expensive lunch’ is something architects do and is therefore architecting.

  12. Snert

    Greg,

    Those hungry architects are lunching. The expensive lunch was architected by a restauranteur.

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