My boss asked me to have a look at a presentation he'll be giving next week; checking if he didn't forget anything.
While skimming over the document, the following sentence was somehow bothering me:

... in order to circuit the problem.

The use of circuit as a verb seemed odd to me. I first checked Merriam Webster's and Oxford's Learner's Dictionaries but they don't have listed circuit as a verb. The advanced editions of both dictionaries define the verb.

Neither the Corpora of Contemporary American English nor the British National Corpus has an entry on using circuit as a verb, but 10k and 2.5k, respectively, uses as a noun.

I incidentally mentioned to my boss that I'd chosen to circumvent, to handle or to deal. Subsequently, he asked a colleague who's native English whether she would understand the meaning of circuit. She agreed.

Surprisingly, she didn't say that circuit would be an odd choice. Well, I think I had posed the question in a different way, namely not asking about "being understandable" but rather about "is it natural to use circuit as a verb".

Is circuit acceptable as a verb in ordinary language or is it - as corpora are suggesting - an uncommon verb?

  • More common for to circumvent is to short-circuit.
    – GEdgar
    Apr 19 '13 at 14:09
  • @GEdgar Well, from OALD I understand something completely different to what to circuit intend to mean.
    – Em1
    Apr 19 '13 at 14:20
  • It is better to say “Neither . . . has” than to say “Both . . . do not have”.
    – tchrist
    Apr 19 '13 at 14:25
  • Most likely it was intended to be either circumvent or, to a lesser extent, even short-circuit, not just circuit.
    – Kris
    Apr 19 '13 at 14:51
  • 2
    Or perhaps skirt (to avoid, go around the edge of, or keep distant from).
    – Hellion
    Apr 19 '13 at 15:11

The OED shows that circuit has been a verb since around 1550. It derives from the same word as a noun, which is documented to have been used for around 200 years before its use as a verb. The verb means:

  1. a. trans. To go, pass, move, or travel round; to make the circuit of, compass about.
    †b. fig. To compass in thought, circumvent, get round. Obs.
  2. intr. To go or move in a circuit.

Here is a transitive example, the latest citation given:

  • 1879 R. A. Proctor Pleasant Ways Sci. v. 119
    Some..comet, circuiting the sun in about eleven years.

And here is the only intransitive citation provided:

  • a1613 T. Overbury Characters: Noble Spirit in Wks. (1856) 61
    He circuits his intents, and seeth the end before he shoot.

I would not say this is a common verb, but documentation for it certainly exists.

  • 3
    However, circuit for circumvent (which is what the snippet appears to be saying) is marked as obsolete.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 19 '13 at 11:13
  • @AndrewLeach Oh, is that what the OP was meaning? I couldn’t quite tell.
    – tchrist
    Apr 19 '13 at 11:17
  • Well, as said in my question I also found some entries in several dictionaries. You just found another one. That's not really satisfying.
    – Em1
    Apr 19 '13 at 14:24
  • Is it possible - as a plain language learner - to access OED?
    – Em1
    Apr 19 '13 at 14:25
  • @Em1 Right now, yes. But the OED’s entry shows that the circumvent/short-circuit sense is obsolete.
    – tchrist
    Apr 19 '13 at 14:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.