Thursday, March 31, 2011

'to app' - my favourite new verb

Last night I went out with some of my lovely friends to a local brewery that opens the doors to its own bar once or twice a week. It was a great chance to catch up with friends - but it never matters how pleasant the company is, how tasty the food is or how beery the beer is in these situations there's a part of my brain that just never stops thinking linguistics.

And so, at the end of the night when one of my responsible friends pulled out her phone to summons a taxi my ears pricked up when she said:

'I'm going to app a cab'

App a cab! This is excellent and mysterious, I thought. I asked my friend to explain. It transpires that there is a smart phone app that lets you order a cab and check the progress of your order. For the act of summonsing a cab using this app my friend appropriated the word app as a verb. This is not very exiting in itself, English is always taking nouns and making them verbs, it's something that English does very well - think of things like 'to email', 'to fax', 'to kindle' which all started out as nouns.

The linguist in me immediately set about trying to discern the meaning of the verb. It turns out that by checking TramTracker (A staple on any Melburnian's app list) one does not 'app a tram' but if there were an app that let you order pizza one could perhaps be 'apping a pizza' - among my small test group the jury was still out on that one.

I wonder whether 'to app' will make it into wider use. My friend told me that she acquired the verb from the same friend she acquired the app from, so it's not just a one-off coinage. It made me realise just how far 'app' has come from simply being the shortened form of 'application software' - it now has a life of its own. It's a potentially pertinent point given that Microsoft and Apple are currently having a bout of legal fisticuffs over the trademarking of 'App Store.'

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