In rhetoric, anthimeria, traditionally and more properly called antimeria (from the Greek: ἀντί, antí, "against, opposite" and μέρος, méros, "part"), is any novel change in a word's use, most commonly the use of a noun as if it were a verb.
There are a number of examples throughout the English language that demonstrate the evolution of specific words from one lexical category to another. For example, the word 'chill' originated as a noun that could be substituted as a synonym for 'cold'. Throughout the years, 'chill' grew to transition into a verb ('to chill vegetables') and then, subsequently, an adjective ('a chilly morning'). Most recently, 'chill' has yet again transformed into another part of speech, an "intransitive verb, meaning roughly 'to relax'," as author Ben Yagoda explains; Yagoda then quotes what he determines to be the starting point of this lexical shift through referencing the lyrics of The Sugarhill Gang's 1979 hit 'Rapper's Delight': "There's...a time to break and a time to chill/ To act civilized or act real ill".
A more unusual case of anthimeria is displayed not through a change in lexical category, but a change in form altogether. The punctuation mark '/' was originally implemented to juxtapose two similarly related words or phrases, such as a 'friend/roommate', meaning that the referred person is both a friend and roommate to the speaker. However, younger generations have come to morph the symbol '/' into the written and spoken word of 'slash'. Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, notes that the "emergence of a new conjunction/conjunctive adverb (let alone one stemming from a punctuation mark) is like a rare-bird sighting in the world of linguistics: an innovation in the slang of young people embedding itself as a function word in the language".
The form change from symbol to word also brought about a change in usage, as the situational context of '/' was completely modified to conform to the needs of this new word. The usage of 'slash', according to Curzan, has multiple contextual uses, including the "distinguishing between (a) the activity that the speaker or writer was intending to do or should have been doing, and (b) the activity that the speaker or writer actually did or anticipated they would do...". Curzan also finds that 'slash' has been used to "link a second related thought or clause to the first" as well as simply "introduc[ing] an afterthought that is also a topic shift". Dispersed throughout her blog post entitled "Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore", Curzan has compiled a list of the numerous cases in which 'slash' can be employed, a set of data that she obtained through contributions from students in her undergraduate history of English course. A few examples include:
- "I went to class slash caught up on Game of Thrones."
- "Does anyone care if my cousin comes and visit slash stays with us Friday night?"
- "Has anyone seen my moccasins anywhere? Slash were they given to someone to wear home ever?"
Temporary vs. Permanent Usage
When classifying anthimeria, it is important to determine the difference between words that are popular for the time being as opposed to words that have become permanent fixtures in the English language. As noted above, the use of 'chill' has become a common occurrence in standard English, and the still-transitioning use of 'slash' seems to be well on its way to becoming a permanent conjunction. While still in the transformation stage of usage though, the majority of newly created words are revealed to be only fads, developed to serve a purpose only while the trend runs it course. Helen Sword, a professor at the University of Auckland, provides an example in the verb Eastwood, a craze that swept the nation following Clint Eastwood's speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention. "Within weeks, the fad for Eastwooding - talking to an empty chair - had already petered out". Although relevant to the current time period, the distinction between temporary and permanent "verbifications" and their equivalents is necessary in noting the evolution of the English language.
- "I'll unhair thy head." (Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, II, v.)
- "The thunder would not peace at my bidding". (Shakespeare, King Lear, IV, vi.)
- "Me, dictionary-ing heavily, 'Where was the one they were watching?'" (Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa)
- "'Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Emma Woodhouse-ing me!'" (Jane Austen, Emma)
- "I just verbed it, I just verbed verb" (Hank Green, Vlogbrothers Episode: "HANKLERFISH!")
- "I'm going out to clean the "pasture" spring." (Robert Frost, "North of Boston")
- Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford University Press, New York, 1971.
- Jay Heinrichs (6 August 2013). Thank You For Arguing, Revised and Updated Edition: What Aristotle, Lincoln, And Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. Crown Publishing Group. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-385-34778-5.
- Yagoda, Ben. "Language: The moving parts of speech". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
- Curzan, Anne. "Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
- Sword, Helen (October 27, 2012). "Mutant Verbs". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2013.