I was wondering.

A word can be a verb, adjective, adverb, noun, etc. Is a word its own name? So the word “jump” (verb). Is it also a noun?, but only for the very special case of naming itself.

Why I was thinking this.

I was explaining to a colleague, how to name parts of a computer program (variables, functions, procedures, etc). I stated that procedures should be verb phrases; functions and variables that are boolean should be adjectives, and functions and variables that are not boolean should be nouns. We did not get to adverbs (that is lesson two).

My colleague said that because they are names (variable name, function name etc), then they should all be nouns. This got me thinking. There must be something wrong about what we were taught at school (no surprise there).

  • "teach" is a noun. teach is a verb.
    – Hot Licks
    May 14, 2018 at 11:50
  • @HotLicks are you saying that the quotes, turn it into its own name? May 14, 2018 at 11:56
  • When you use quotes, in any reasonably conventional sense (or speak of words in a fashion where they would be quoted if written down), the quoted text functions as a noun, losing it's previous part-of-speech role.
    – Hot Licks
    May 14, 2018 at 12:08
  • This might be better on [linguistics] or [philosophy] . Computer programs are different, they depend on the language. Traditional imperative languages tend to have variables that are like nouns and procedures which are like verbs. But in functional languages procedures are objects like nouns and variables are just functions with no arguments. So it depends. But this isn't English, it's programming language theory. In English, nouns are nouns, verbs are verbs. The word 'verb' is a noun, and likewise 'noun' is a noun (and all the other labels of parts of speech).
    – Mitch
    May 14, 2018 at 12:26
  • This is in programming, so we can not italicise, or quote. However I think that we have answered my question: Yes. a variable/function/procedure name does not have to be a noun. Functions/variables returning non-boolean are nouns-phrases e.g. height , Functions/variables returning boolean are adjective-phrases e.g. is_on, procedures are verbs switch on. May 15, 2018 at 10:51

1 Answer 1


Yes. This is the use-mention distinction. Your 'naming itself' notion is described as a mention.

The use–mention distinction is a foundational concept of analytic philosophy, according to which it is necessary to make a distinction between using a word (or phrase) and mentioning it, and many philosophical works have been "vitiated by a failure to distinguish use and mention". The distinction is disputed by non-analytic philosophers.

The distinction between use and mention can be illustrated for the word cheese:

  • Use: Cheese is derived from milk.
  • Mention: 'Cheese' is derived from the Old English word ċēse.

The first sentence is a statement about the substance called "cheese"; it uses the word 'cheese' to refer to that substance. The second is a statement about the word 'cheese' as a signifier; it mentions the word without using it to refer to anything other than itself.

- wikipedia

When you deal with, say, a function name get(), you need to distinguish between the use of that name and the mention of that name. Since you use get() to do something, it makes sense to pick a verb as the name. When you say that get() is a function name, you aren't using the function; you're just mentioning it.

  • 1
    Further, it's important to not pick a name which might, should it lose its immediate context, lead one astray, due to this "use-mention" thing and related issues. I can't think of any good examples offhand, but I've seen many.
    – Hot Licks
    May 14, 2018 at 17:13
  • I think you mean procedure. A function returns a value and is a noun(non-boolean) or adjective(boolean). A procedure does something (verb). Most people make this mistake. I think this may be why some started using the word method (Maybe). May 14, 2018 at 17:55
  • 1
    @ctrl-alt-delor - Depends on the computer language. There are some that have no "functions", others that have no "procedures".
    – Hot Licks
    May 14, 2018 at 21:51
  • @ctrl-alt-delor I was focusing on use/mention and used the term function generically. A lot of functions are named after verbs or verb phrases - 'getters' are a good example of this. Even boolean functions are often named is_xyz(), which has the verb to be 'is' at its head. The way the function is used also comes into play. If you want to say d = door_of(room), it makes sense to not use a verb.
    – Lawrence
    May 14, 2018 at 23:56
  • 1
    As for formatting when it comes to this, here's what The Chicago Manual of Style (7.63) says: "When a word or term is not used functionally but is referred to as the word or term itself, it is either italicized or enclosed in quotation marks. . . . Although italics are the traditional choice, quotation marks may be more appropriate in certain contexts." May 15, 2018 at 2:23

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