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I need to express the following: an application user is allowed to mark a file as "favorite". He then can execute the reversed action of "unmarking a favorite file".

Is it all right to use the terms "favorite" and "unfavorite" as verbs (for example, "user favorites file xyz" and "user unfavorites file zyx")?

I am aware this is rather an abuse of the language, but I really need to shorten my documentation and this is only one situation from the many situations I encounter while capturing the requirements for an application.

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    In context, it conveys the concept clearly - I wouldn't worry too much about whether it's in the dictionary or not. – ElendilTheTall Mar 4 '15 at 10:10
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    Who exactly do you think has the authority to declare any word legitimate or not?!? – curiousdannii Mar 4 '15 at 11:05
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    @Dan all of which says there are no real authorities. There's no point asking whether a word is legit or not, ask whether it will be easily understood. – curiousdannii Mar 4 '15 at 11:10
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    No one bats an eye at unfriend anymore, and unfavourite follows the exact same derivational path, so I doubt many people would bat much of an eye at that either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 4 '15 at 11:11
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    Until computer interfaces made it possible to undo all sorts of actions which in the real world are not reversible, un- was (apart from a few archaisms like unsay) restricted to verbs of wrapping, enclosing, attaching, fastening. (I am not talking about un- attached to adjectives, which was much more general). Now, particularly in the online world, un- is attached to many verbs where it wouldn't formerly have made any sense. – Colin Fine Mar 4 '15 at 12:53
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Facebook has made both friend and unfriend commonly used verbs. To begin with, quite a few people objected to this verbing, and quite a few people ranted and raved about it. That didn’t stop either verb from becoming perfectly commonplace and more or less ubiquitously accepted, of course: everyone knows what they mean now, and nobody bats an eyelid at seeing or hearing either these days.

Favourite is quite analogous to friend here: it is a noun (and an adjective) that can easily be verbed in the same kind of context and with the same kind of meaning. Although I can’t think of any specific sites that use both favourite and unfavourite as a verb in this way1 (add to favourites or just fave are more common), there is absolutely nothing to stop you from doing so. Creating a verb (usually a causative one) from a noun or adjective by zero-derivation is exceedingly common in English, and can more or less be done with any noun you want, at any time you want.

The prefix un- can also be productively applied to just about any verb where it makes sense to add a prefix with the meaning:

Denoting the reversal or cancellation of an action or state (ODO)

If you can cool something (= make it cooler), then you can also uncool it (= reverse the action of making it cooler); if you can friend someone (= make them a friend), you can also unfriend them (= reversing the action of making them a friend); and if you can fav(ourit)e something (= make it a favourite), then you can also unfav(ourit)e it (= reverse the action of making it a favourite).

Finally, while no dictionaries apart from Wiktionary have yet picked up on the verbal use of (un)fav(ourit)e, Googling either term yields many thousand hits, which at least shows that you are hardly the first person to use these words.


1 The verbs favourite and unfavourite are in frequent use by developers for and users of Twitter, but on Twitter itself, only favourite is used: when you hover over the star icon in a favourited tweet, the tooltip says undo favourite rather than unfavourite.

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    On the Android Twitter app (at least), it tells me that "<name> favorited <tweet>" all the time. – Colin Fine Mar 4 '15 at 12:49
  • @ColinFine You’re right—so it does! Because of my location, Twitter had defaulted to Danish for me, and the Danish version says added to favourites on the website (but favourited in the iOS app, I now see). Setting it to English would of course have been a good idea before writing anything out here … duh. Fixing now! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 4 '15 at 12:52
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: thank you again for your really well documented answer! – Dan Mar 4 '15 at 14:34
  • This process of turning non-verbs into verbs happens elsewhere, too, especially in business jargon. See also, "to architect" (gimmick jargon for "to design" usually referring to software), and the egregious "to train" (meaning to travel by train) that I once heard. That one might be my least favorite verb ever – shadowtalker Mar 4 '15 at 14:40
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    @ssdecontrol Well, if you can bus people, ferry goods, boat through the fjords, and bike to the shops, why not train to work as well? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 4 '15 at 14:59

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