The English Pedant – Pleasure me, that was good!


Regular readers will know that this blog deplores the use of leverage as a verb. But perhaps what really makes it stand out among the many words that are gradually changing in some way is that British people use the American pronunciation,as if it had a double v: levverage.

Maybe people do it because it looks like beverage.

Anyway, across the English-speaking world, with its rich variety of pronunciation, leveraging has been accepted as a verb, meaning to apply pressure as with a lever, so you can acquire a company in another country and leverage it to establish the mother company’s presence there.

Yes, other words would have been perfectly able to express the idea (use it to establish…, take advantage of it… etc. etc.) but that’s a whole discussion in itself.

The subject under scrutiny here is the fact that a noun is being made into a verb.

As is almost always the case in such matters, it pays not to be too dogmatic, because there is often an example of something similar which doesn’t arouse the pedant’s indignation. In this case, consider the word pleasure. Something gives us pleasure; we take pleasure in something; if someone thanks us for what we are pleased to have done, it was a pleasure. We have pleasure boats and sometimes it’s the opposite of business: business or pleasure?

One application of the word does turn it into a verb, though – and it’s a beautiful one. Consider this oft-quoted utterance by Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, c. 1700: “The Duke returned from the wars today and did pleasure me in his top-boots.”

Her husband had been away on active service, leaving her short of a bit of marital service, and as soon as he walked through the door, without so much as removing his riding boots, he pleasured her.

Look at the alternatives: He shagged me? He fucked me? He doinked me? All a bit factual, short on romance.

He made love to me? Too sugary and euphemistic. Love was only part of it. He lifted her skirt, threw her over the chaise longue and gave her a good seeing-to.

Pleasured somehow captures the idea by giving it an additional element: what it felt like to the Duchess. She liked it. She more than liked it.

Who knows how the development of pleasure into such a descriptive gem came about? But whatever the cause and whoever the perpetrator, it created a little bit of poetry, and we should be grateful.

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