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I've just, without much fore thought, used the word "actioned" in the following (example) context, and am now wondering if it's valid (upon a re-read I've decided I don't like the way it sounds, hence the question).

1000 emails needed some kind of action, 800 of which were actioned by the team while the remaining 200 were escalated.

I can think of (what I feel is) a better word to replace "actioned" in this case - either "processed" and "completed" should do it - and my spell checker doesn't like "actioned", so I'm wondering if the word is valid? If it is, is my above example a valid usage?

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2  
You can't action emails, you can only action on asks. (^_^) –  RegDwigнt Mar 9 '11 at 12:56

7 Answers 7

up vote 17 down vote accepted

This use of "action" as a verb is very common in business contexts, so it's very hard to argue it's invalid, but as both your reaction and Robusto's indicate, many people find it awkward, jarring or just plain ugly; for this reason you may wish to avoid using it (although in an internal report in the sort of company where people talk like that, it would be entirely appropriate to do so...).

Other possible replacements:

  • taken care of
  • dealt with
  • carried out
  • acted on
  • performed
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4  
Ah, I think you've hit the nail on the head here - essentially it's not in common usage, except as management-speak. In which case, I shall continued to try and avoid using it; just need to teach my fingers not to type it when I'm not looking... –  DMA57361 Mar 9 '11 at 13:46

English has a long history of turning nouns into verbs, but this one feels just awkward.

I'd suggest "acted on" instead of "actioned" here, or some other word or construction.

You could say something like:

1,000 emails needed some kind of action, 800 of which were tackled by the team while the remaining 200 were escalated.

Tackle in this case means to

make determined efforts to deal with (a problem or difficult task) : police have launched an initiative to tackle rising crime.

Speaking of that, you could use "dealt with" in place of "actioned" there as well.

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Since escalating a problem is also an action, I'd hunt for a word or phrase that describes what the team did with or about those messages that were NOT escalated. In the absence of a better choice, I'd use "resolved", or "handled".

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I would guess that "action" as a verb is a back-formation from "actionable", which is a word a long history. The formation would arise from this perfectly reasonable thought: if something is "actionable", that means you must be able to "action" it, right?

However, action as a verb is not listed in any of the major published dictionaries I looked in, nor are there any examples of actioned in the Corpus of Contemporary American English.

Interestingly, in the Google ngram for 'actioned', there was a large surge of usage in the mid-19th century that dropped to a trickle until a new surge starting in the early 1980s. Most of the 19th-century examples seems to be related to horses ("Before dismissing the horse stock, we must not omit to notice a fine-actioned grey colt, bred by Lord Hastings") and guns ("Patent double-actioned high-pressure sky-blue revolvers").

ngram for 'actioned'

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To action is also legal term - if you actioned someone, you took them to court

But I did find actioned here: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/actioned

to put into effect; take action concerning matters decided at the meeting cannot be actioned until the following week

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Hmmm... I think it's clear that whatever the intended meaning is, "take the e-mails to court" probably isn't it... –  Neil Coffey Mar 9 '11 at 13:32

The difficulty with answering this question is that there are two different strands to it. Actionable is a word with a respectable history, in both British and American English: unfortunately, in this sense it is a technical legal term, meaning "an action at law will lie". This is not the same as illegal, but is similar to tortious; e.g. "Firing people because of their age is actionable". [IANAL]

There is another sense, 'able to be acted upon'. This is much more American than British, but is in the OED with citations from 1913 (as opposed to 1601 for the legal sense). It is not much used formally because of the potential for confusion, but certainly can be taken as a basis for the back-formation of 'to action'. The word is, however, ugly and probably redundant: I have never seen a use that could not be better handled by act; "800 of them were acted on by the team."

So you can reasonably defend yourself if accused of employing a non-existent word, but in practice it's probably better to find an alternative.

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I believe that this term might be a North American term, hence why it seems to be rejected by my spell checker. I have used this term on one or two occasions, but I might have heard it used in some U.S programs over the years.

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I'm presuming you don't normally speak American English? –  American Luke Nov 3 '12 at 14:17

protected by RegDwigнt Feb 29 '12 at 11:19

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