Saturday, September 6, 2014

Still Life With Robin: I Just [Verbed] Here to Say...

Photo by Mariordo via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

In a household with four licensed drivers and just one car, I have lately become a more frequent user of alternative forms of transportation: Car2Go, Uber, UberX, and Capital Bikeshare, as well as those old standbys, Metro and taxi. (I was about to type the cliché “old reliables” but stopped myself when I realized that neither Metro nor DC taxis can accurately be covered by that phrase). I haven’t yet used Lyft, Hailo, or Zipcar. I won’t go into the plusses and minuses of each of these variants versus the private car; my purpose today is to consider the efficiency of language in supplying a concise verb for the mode of transportation involved.

A couple of examples that I have actually used: “I Metro’ed to the dentist.” “I Ubered back home from the restaurant.” If I want to express the past tense for my use of Car2Go, it’s not quite so easy. I could never say, “I Car2Go’ed home.” Even worse would be “I Car2Went….”

Lyft has not taken off in this area in quite the same way that Uber has, and I am guessing that part of the problem may be its lack of a handy verb to describe the action of taking Lyft. People just don’t say they “Lyfted” someplace the way they say they “Ubered.” Even the more normal-sounding phrase “I got a Lyft” is likely to be misinterpreted as its more conventional meaning: “I was offered a ride by a friend.”

Of course, I could be overstating the utility of having a brand name that doubles as a verb. The taxi industry has not appeared to suffer from the need to say, “I took a taxi” – four words -- rather than “I taxied” (a verb that summons up an image of an airplane moving slowly on its wheels along a runway). As for Car2Go, what’s wrong with saying, “I used a carshare service to get here”? Why, nothing at all, and it’s not as if using taking an extra half-second to describe the means of arrival will slow you down in real life. 

Still, every time you do use a branded verb like Uber, you are conveying the impression that Uber is one of the standard ways to get from one place to another, just like Metro-ing, driving (your own car), walking, or biking. You might even say, “I Ubered to the job interview” when you actually arrived by Lyft. Or MyTaxi. Or RideJoy, Sidecar, RideScout, or whatever new service comes down the pike (literally, in this case). Language often adapts ahead of reality. We will know that’s true when we are finally able to beam to some other location. We’ve had that verb for a means of transport since the crew members of the Starship Enterprise first traveled that way back in 1966….


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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