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When did an invitation become an invite?

A long time ago, as it turns out, although I only became aware of the switch during the past year or so.

I have long been aware of the verb “invite” occasionally being used as a noun to serve as an abbreviated version of “invitation.” My earliest memory of the shortened form of the word being used conversationally occurred while watching an episode of “Bonanza” sometime in the 1960s, when Hoss Cartwright asked one of his brothers if he had received an “invite” to a party in Virginia City.

During the decades that followed, my recollection is that “invite,” a noun with accent on the first syllable, was most often used as a highly informal, more-or-less countrified version of “invitation.” But the short form of the word appeared more frequently with the arrival of the social media era and now seems to be used more frequently than “invitation.”

According to Merriam-Webster’s User Notes, the first known use of “invite” as a noun in literature occurred in 1628, in an English translation of Ovid’s narrative poem “Metamorphosis.” Its usage slowly and steadily increased in the centuries that followed.

Since it’s now grammatically acceptable to verb our nouns, and gift someone a present or plate their food, then it’s also acceptable to noun our verbs.

The acceptance of “invite” as at least a colloquial form of “invitation” by the Oxford English Dictionary and other sources follows a flurry of nouns being assigned new identities as verbs. Thanks in large part to the arrival of the internet and the use of social media, we now use nouns as verbs to do things like skype, Google and friend people. In fact, you may want to bookmark this column for future reference.

Calvin & Hobbes were ahead of their time when they summed up the situation in a three-panel cartoon in 1993.

“I like to verb words,” Calvin says to Hobbes in the first panel.

“I take nouns and adjectives and make them into verbs,” he continues in the second. “Remember when ‘access’ was a thing? Now it’s something you do. It got verbed.”

But, as Calvin observes in the third and final panel, as the pair walks down a snowy sidewalk, “Verbing weirds language,” to which Hobbes thoughtfully replies:

“Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.”

Rick Steelhammer is a features reporter. He can be reached at 304-348-5169 or rsteelhammer@hdmediallc.com. Follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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