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I found the phrase “duct-tape together” in the following sentence of a Washington Post (June 21) article written by Chris Cillizza under the title “Gingrich campaign hit by more departures.” The sentence in question is a quote from Newt Gingrich’s former spokesman, R.C. Hammond:

“We are going to duct-tape together one coalition of Americans after another that believes in his large, bold vision of change.”

As it was the first time that I came across ‘duct tape’ being used in verb form, I consulted several dictionaries at hand and online dictionaries to check whether it can be used as a verb or not. None of them shows the usage of ‘duct tape’ as a verb.

For example, Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia simply defines it as

n. duct tape is cloth-or scrim-backed pressure sensitive tape often sealed with polyethylene.

Audio English Net. defines it

a wide silvery adhesive tape intended to seal joints in sheet metal duct work but having many other uses

without any mention as a verb.

Is it normal or taken for granted to use ‘duct tape’ in verb form as quoted in the Washington Post article?

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actually, after answering I found 'duct-tape' as verb in merriam-webster.com/dictionary/… –  Unreason Jun 23 '11 at 14:28
Duct tape can be used for ANYTHING ! –  mgb Jun 23 '11 at 18:23
@Unreason. Oh, there was! Thank you. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 24 '11 at 1:53
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5 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

This is, I learn, called conversion in lingustics:

also called zero derivation, is a kind of word formation; specifically, it is the creation of a word from an existing word without any change in form

making a verb out of a noun:

Verbification, or verbing, is the creation of a verb from a noun, adjective or other word.

In English, verbification typically involves simple conversion of a non-verb to a verb. The verbs to verbify and to verb are themselves products of verbification (see autological word), and—as might be guessed—the term to verb is often used more specifically, to refer only to verbification that does not involve a change in form. (Verbing in this specific sense is therefore a kind of anthimeria.)

Examples in English number in thousands and this is a very potent source of neologisms, due to the fact that newly coined words take a well defined meaning from the noun. It is typically used when there is no ambiguity (compare to tape with to glass; while tape is an object with clear dominant use, glass is not so it is not so effective).

Of course, prescriptivists oppose it on principle, but also others oppose it when it is not done 'in the spirit' of the language, for example the following quote from Bill Waterson's:

Calvin: Verbing weirds language.

is perfectly understandable, but it sounds very strange.

In cases where it does not weird it - it is easily accepted. In your example, the way the noun 'tape' was verbed into verb 'tape' provides an established path for "duct tape" to follow.

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@Unreason.@Unreason. Thank you for providing me with comprehensive explanation. Also it was good to get familiar with the word, anthimeria which gave me better understanding of verbing. By the way, can those words like golf, tennis, piano, guitar, violin, car, bicycle, PC verbalized as well? –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 23 '11 at 11:56
@Yoichi Oishi, yes, but keep in mind that they might more or less effective, for example to bicycle is very effective. Actually it is already in dictionaries as a verb, together with to golf. While piano, tennis, guitar, violin and car are awkward and can not seem to replace play, play, play, play and drive, respectively (situation might be different in specialized jargons). –  Unreason Jun 23 '11 at 12:11
@Martha, that is what I considered, too, but I don't think that is the case! I find the route from established and existing noun "duct tape" to verb more likely than route of adding an adverb to the verb. Another reason why that sounds less likely is due to the fact that 'duct' as adverb does not convey a very precise meaning that would modify a verb, where verbifying 'duct tape' is very precise. –  Unreason Jun 23 '11 at 14:27
+1 for the Calvin quote. –  TRiG Jun 23 '11 at 14:34
"To glass" is a well-known verb in British English. It means to attack someone with broken glass - usually a beer bottle or a pint glass. –  Peter Taylor Jun 23 '11 at 15:37
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Yes, using "duct tape" as a verb is quite a common practice. In particular, you will frequently see it together with "together" as in your example, but there are other usages too. In fact I probably hear it more as a verb than a noun. Consider this example:

Hey Caleb, can you duct tape this cord to the floor so people don't trip on it?

Or more generically:

How should I do ..........?
Easy! Just duct tape the .......... to the ...........

These likely fall in the realm of colloquial language, but are quite common, easily understood, and don't strike even a picky ear as out of place.

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By analogy with "glue" or "tape" or any other fastening method, sure. As Unreason notes, nouns get verbed in English a lot.

However, note that the verb form of a two-word noun takes a hyphen: "duct-tape", not "duct tape".

Tangent: "It's not the verbing that weirds the language, it's the renounification." -- Marc LeBlanc

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So did all those other fastening-method verbs ["strap", "screw", "nail", "bolt", "clip", "clamp", "rivet", off the top of my head] get their start as "verbed nouns" too? –  Random832 Jun 23 '11 at 14:49
No idea -- my guess would be some yes and some no, but you'd have to do a little digging to find out for sure. Dictionaries sometimes give origins, so you could start there. –  Monica Cellio Jun 23 '11 at 20:31
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Also, the adjectival phrase phrase "duct-taped together" is pretty commonly used as a synonym for improvised or jury-rigged.

Such constructions are not uncommon: "a million-to-one chance", "a red-and-green Christmas bow", and so on; it's more compact than "the chances are a million to one" or "the Christmas bow was red and green".

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It's duck tape rather than duct tape. It's a proprietrary name and in hoover there's a precedent for using a proprietary name as a verb, so I suppose you can duck tape something. However, if you think using it that way might upset your readers' sensibilites, then fasten with duck tape is available as an alternative.

The OED has three citations for ‘duck tape’. The earliest is from 1899, but it doesn’t seem to be used here in the sense to which we are accustomed:

In the washable suits for later wear pique and duck tape take the lead, especially in white and dark blue.

The two subsequent citations, however, show it being used in the way now commonly understood. This from 1902:

Considering . . . that 100,000 yards of cotton duck tape must be wrapped around the cable [of the Williamsburg bridge] with neatness and exactitude, it may be imagined that this method of cable preservation is quite expensive.

And this from 1996:

When we decided to move on to our private camp out in the wilds of the Masai Mara, we had a little problem with the nose of the plane, which we had to tape shut with duck tape!

The OED also records duct tape, with the comment ‘perhaps an alteration of earlier duck tape’. The earliest of the three supporting citations here is dated 1965. The fact that it comes 66 years after the first use of duck tape suggests that folk etymology took a while to have its effect.

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Not "duct"? Then why would Duck brand duct tape call it duct tape? Because it was originally used for taping ducts! As in big sheet metal tubes that carry air. Ductwork. Air conditioning. –  ErikE Feb 26 '12 at 8:26
@ErikE: Because they seem to be muddled about their own product. Duck is a fabric used originally in the making of sails and clothing. Duck tape is adhesive tape made of the same or similar material. It has been popularised as duct tape because, in the general ignorance about what duck actually is, it seems to make more sense. –  Barrie England Feb 26 '12 at 8:37
Thank you for correcting my ignorance of the origins. However, I'll still have to disagree with you: the very popularization of duct tape has made that its name. Other brands of the tape avoid "duck tape" for obvious reasons. You're right on the original name, but both are valid now. Note: the site I found had a different origin than "sail material." Do you have a reference? –  ErikE Feb 26 '12 at 8:46
@ErikE: The OED’s definition of duck is 'A strong untwilled linen (or later, cotton) fabric, lighter and finer than canvas; used for small sails and men's (esp. sailors') outer clothing. In the earlier half of the 19th c. much worn for trousers.' The earliest citation is dated 1640. The etymological note says 'Known only from 17th cent.; apparently < 17th cent. Dutch doeck ‘linnen or linnen cloath’ (Hexham 1678); = German tuch , Icelandic dúkr , Swedish duk.' –  Barrie England Feb 26 '12 at 8:55
And you have proof that this is the source? False roots abound: sextant doesn't come from sex. I never doubted your meaning of duck, just as the origin of duck tape. –  ErikE Feb 26 '12 at 8:58
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