Verbs as nouns. Nouns as verbs. It's a prevailing concern. This week we take on the linguistic pothole that is Twitter. Everyone blames everything on Twitter. How it's undermined substance, trivialised serious issues, shortened our attention spans, made us grossly self-obsessed, started wars (not true: the list needed beef). I don't mind any of that. I mind about "trending".
As a word, it makes me feel physically sick. Maybe, unbeknown to me, trending has always been a verb. To trend. Instinctively I would think it means "to dress up in apparently fashionable, but pretentious and hilarious clothes". Lindsay Lohan's trending! She's wearing a crotch-length skirt made of Sellotape and lemongrass!
In Twitter-speak, it means something different. If you're trending on Twitter, you're being tweeted about by vast numbers of people. Trending today, for example, is the handsome pairing of Justin Bieber and the Digital Economy Bill.
But trending has now slithered into other spheres, beyond the comfort of its Twitter home. A leaked fundraising presentation from the Republican National Committee revealed details of a campaign to "save the country from trending toward socialism".
It's hard to know where to start with that statement. If you lopped off the last two words and added an exclamation mark, I'd sign up. (Save the country from trending!) But trending toward socialism? Trending can move? Save Geoff Hoon's career from trending backwards! Stop David Cameron trending to the right!
The bugbear is the way people invent words when there are perfectly good existing ones that mean the same thing. Take "actioning", which, like trending, forces a happy noun into the ill-fitting garb of a verb. "Action that," says your boss. Meaning do it. But they don't say do it. They say action it, as though that will result in something else; more active, I suppose. It's nonsense.
But back to trending. With its multiple new ambiguous meanings, you could feasibly write the sentence: "The trending trend is trending sideways." Which clears everything up.