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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?

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  • 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
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    Or perhaps skirt (to avoid, go around the edge of, or keep distant from).
    – Hellion
    Apr 19 '13 at 15:11
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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.

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  • 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

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