February 02, 2012

Is "constitution" a verb?

A student sent me a link to this clip from The Colbert Report on 1/30. Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe talks about the function of the Constitution today. At 2:30, Stephen Colbert brings up a recent article by Tribe, in which he wrote that "constitution" was not a noun, but a verb.

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Of course, he does not really mean that "constitution" is a verb. If it were, we'd say things like "What did they constitution?" No, what Tribe means, is that the meaning of the noun "constitution" is a process, not a thing, and that is true for many nouns ending on -ion. An exam is a thing, an examination is an event.

The situation reminds me of a slogan I keep reading on flyers about our campus craft studio: "Craftshop - Where ART is a verb!" What they mean is that they make art and that "art" is not just a finished product. They don't actually mean that the word "art" is a verb. If it were, they'd say something like "Craftshop -- where we art all the time."

You can't make something a a verb without using it as a verb.

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