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This question was asked on ELL.SE.

...and as answered over there, the verb "To Frankenstein" is a reference to popular culture that implies to cobble together (a team in this case) from various (likely unrelated) sources just to get something working, as the fictional Frankenstein himself did to build a functioning human body from parts of multiple cadavers.

But my question is, what kind of word is "Frankenstein" when used like this? I know it's a verb, but that's not what I mean, I'm more talking about inventing a use for a word whose meaning can be inferred from having knowledge of the reference.

e.g. Is it a metaphor?

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  • There is no verb "Frankenstein". It's just a nonce-formation concocted "on the hoof".
    – BillJ
    Oct 24, 2019 at 11:01
  • "Frankenstein" as a verb has been in use for at least 20 years. It is often used to describe the bizarre behavior of meth addicts cobbling together "inventions" from scrap. Jan 7, 2021 at 13:32

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It's called a denominal verb, according to an article on JSTOR's blog, which discusses examples such as "My sister Houdini’d her way out of the locked closet." The process of using a noun as a verb is called verbing a noun, or (for lovers of long words) denominalization, and is very common in English going back at least to Shakespeare (although using a proper noun is less common than using other types of noun). It seems quite rare for people to use a specific term for the verb, other than using an adjective like "denominal" or "denominalized". Here's another article on the subject, from Grammarly.

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  • Does "denominal" refer to the conversion of a noun to a verb, or the use of a common-knowledge reference to get the meaning across (i.e. our knowledge of Houdini and Frankenstein) or both?
    – komodosp
    Oct 24, 2019 at 11:32
  • A denominal verb is an accepted word. DIY-isms have some way to go before being accepted into the lexicon. Oct 24, 2019 at 12:34
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The first use of the word as a verb that I have found after a cursory search of Google Books seems to mean "to scare" judging by the context. This dates from 1829, about 11 years after Mary Shelley first published the famous novel.

We've been Freischutted , Frankensteined , They choose a dress of flaming tint , And buy the stuff ell - wide , sirs . And Vampired ' nough t'alarm any ; And if we chance to lay one fiend , Ri doodle , & c . The Universal Songster: Or, Museum of Mirth

Not very long after, in 1842 we see it in its meaning of "to cobble together"

Some padded figure for a pantomime , or an Egyptian mummy , Frankensteined into a kind of counterfeit vitality ! - Suddenly swollen individual ! how many coats have you on ? " " Only four , sir , " replied Mrs . Drabber

The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic

Stuart F has named it a denominal verb, which seems as good as any. Needless to say, the main qualification of a name used as a verb is that the name should be very well known in the community where it is used.

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