Monday, February 28, 2011

News to me: "The verbatim"

Last Friday a guest on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show," commenting on the faux-Koch-brother phone call to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, said he couldn't quote "the verbatim of the call."

The noun verbatim was new to me, but it was all over the Web, not to mention attested in the OED back to 1898 -- "A full or word-for-word report of a speech" -- with a quote from the Daily News (of London): "Crisp writer wanted, who can also do a verbatim."

But 1898 is peanuts, datewise. Google Books effortlessly antedates the noun verbatim to a 1728 edition of John Dunton's "The Athenian Oracle," itself a collection of pieces from Dunton's periodical The Athenian Mercury, published (so says Wikipedia) from 1691 to 1697. "If  we take no notice" of a letter-writer's threat, says the Mercury author, "the Verbatim of the Letter is to be Printed (take their own pretty Phrase)."

Those italics are in the original, and I couldn't begin to guess whether verbatim is the part of the "pretty Phrase" the writer is mocking. But mocked or not, the usage is more than 300 years old (and there are plenty of examples from the intervening centuries, too). The Recency Illusion, spoiled again.


Carolyn Roosevelt said...

I just had a conversation last week about some kind of training for chaplains or hospital social workers in which the trainees were expected to make verbatim reports (abbreviated as 'verbatim' all the time, evidently) of their interactions with patients/clients; that was the first time I had heard of 'verbatim' as a noun, and this is the second.
One of those things.

Kay L. Davies said...

It's news to me, too. I always thought "verbatim" was an adverb. Now we find out it's a noun, and an old one at that, not something made up in the last century. What a surprise!
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Steve Hall said...

I'm willing to bet that 99.9 percent of those who use the word "verbatim" as a noun really don't know what they're talking about. The other 0.1 percent are people like you, Jan. :)

John Lawler said...

Verbatim is straightforward Latin for "word by word", with exactly the same suffix found in the English borrowings seriatim, gradatim, and litteratim (respectively, 'one by one, step by step', and ' letter by letter'). They're adverbs in both Latin and English, but if one referred to "the word-by-word of the call", it would be understood pretty easily.
Lexical categories like Noun and Adverb are really fluid in English, and it's only a relic of our benighted educational system that causes us to shudder when they come up different from the way Sister Assumpta taught us they should be.

Anonymous said...

Huh. It's a noun. Groovy. Going to have to add that to my vocab repertoire.

Picky said...

The Daily News was, of course, Dickens' paper. As a shorthand writer he could do a verbatim, I suppose. And he could do crisp when he wanted.

The Ridger, FCD said...

People who work for the government (among others) have used verbatim to mean "word for word" - as a transcript - for a long time - it was standard usage 40 years ago when I first encountered it.

Also, by the way, Archie Goodwin always made verbatim reports to Nero Wolfe.

Won Bae said...

When I came to this country in 1955, a professor of English 101 strongly suggested to the students to listen to the radio news report and watch TV newscasts. In those days the people in this business were educated to speak and write proper English.
Now, any thing goes! The schools of journalism seem do not care about educating their students in English grammar.

jhollow said...

John L.

Noun? Adverb? All a social construct?

Next you will tell us that Sister Assumpta was a brother.

Bold assumpta indeed.