Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Take an adjective such as "implacable,"

  • or a verb like "proliferate,"

  • or even another noun, "crony,"

  • and add a suffix, such as "-ity," or "-tion," or "-ism."

  • You've created a new noun.

  • "Implacability," "proliferation," "cronyism."

  • Sounds impressive, right?

  • Wrong! You've just unleashed a flesh-eating zombie.

  • Nouns made from other parts of speech are called nominalizations.

  • Academics love them.

  • So do lawyers, bureaucrats, business writers.

  • I call them zombie nouns, because they consume the living.

  • They cannibalize active verbs, they suck the lifeblood from adjectives,

  • and they substitute abstract entities for human beings.

  • Here's an example.

  • "The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication

  • of a tendency towards pomposity and abstraction." Huh?

  • This sentence contains no fewer than seven nominalizations,

  • yet it fails to tell us who is doing what.

  • When we eliminate, or reanimate, most of the zombie nouns,

  • so "tendency" becomes "tend," "abstraction" becomes "abstract,"

  • then we add a human subject and some active verbs,

  • the sentence springs back to life.

  • "Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract."

  • Only one zombie noun -- the key word "nominalizations" --

  • has been allowed to remain standing.

  • At their best, nominalizations help us express complex ideas,

  • perception, intelligence, epistemology.

  • At their worst, they impede clear communication.

  • To get a feeling for how zombie nouns work, release a few of them into a lively sentence

  • and watch them sap all its energy.

  • George Orwell played this game in his essay "Politics in the English Language."

  • He started with a well-known verse from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

  • It says "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,

  • neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill;

  • but time and chance happeneth to them all."

  • Now here's Orwell's modern English version.

  • "Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities

  • exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable

  • must invariably be taken into account."

  • The Bible passage speaks to our senses and emotions with concrete nouns,

  • descriptions of people, and punchy, abstract nouns such as "race,"

  • "battle," "riches," "time," "chance."

  • Not a zombie among them.

  • Orwell's satirical translation, on the other hand, is teeming with nominalizations and other vague abstractions.

  • The zombies have taken over, and the humans have fled the village.

  • Zombie nouns do their worst damage when they gather in jargon-generating packs

  • and swallow every noun, verb and adjective in sight.

  • So "globe" becomes "global," becomes "globalize," becomes "globalization."

  • The grandfather of all nominalizations, antidisestablishmentarianism,

  • contains at least two verbs, three adjectives, and six other nouns

  • inside its distended belly.

  • A paragraph heavily populated by nominalizations will send your readers straight to sleep.

  • Rescue them from the zombie apocalypse with vigorous verb-driven sentences

  • that are concrete and clearly structured.

  • You want your sentences to live,

  • not to join the living dead.

Take an adjective such as "implacable,"

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B2 TED-Ed zombie orwell noun abstract tendency

【TED-Ed】Beware of nominalizations (AKA zombie nouns) - Helen Sword

  • 2156 251
    VoiceTube posted on 2013/12/12
Video vocabulary