where the writers are
We Are Not Enthused -- "Enthuse" as Quotation Attribution
This post was inspired by a woman who writes for one of the publications I copy edit. She’s a good writer. I like her writing. So it is with some hesitation that confess that I want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until a certain word falls out of her head.

You see, right in the middle of a perfectly good article, she inserted something like this:

“It’s a great place to visit,” Jones enthused.

She does this a lot. So my gag reflex was toned enough to be under control. But then, a few paragraphs later, she wrote something like:

“The clams casino are wonderful,” Wilson enthused.

That’s right, both Jones and Wilson are caught in the act of “enthusing” – in the same article even. So, with this added strain on my gag reflex, you’ll see it was a miracle that I didn’t blow chunks when, two paragraphs later, I came across something like:

“We love this beach,” Thompson enthused.

There are really three issues here:
1. whether “enthuse” can be used as a verb
2. whether it can be used as a verb in the way our writer friend used it
3. whether any jury in the country will prosecute me when the learn the circumstances contributing to my inevitable crime

The cut-to-the-chase answers:
1. Yes
2. No
3. No

The editorialized answers:

1. “Can” and “should” are two different things. Just because you can eat earthworms doesn’t mean you should. And since the verb “enthused” is even more nauseating than earthworms a l’orange, it seems a good idea to avoid it entirely.
2. See below.
3. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m no hero. I only did what any of you would have done in my shoes. But I do gratefully accept this plaque and your heartfelt applause.

The American Heritage Dictionary reluctantly* defines the verb enthuse as follows. As an intransitive verb, it means “to show or express enthusiasm.” An example from dictionary.com: “All the neighbors enthused over the new baby.” As a transitive verb, it means “to cause to become enthusiastic.” Think “His praise really enthused me,” or, in passive construction, “I was really enthused by his praise."

So it's the first definition that our writer is aiming for. But note that that definition -- “to express enthusiasm” -- is not for transitive use. You can enthuse, you can enthuse over something, but you cannot enthuse something.

Compare this to “say,” whose transitive form allows you to give the verb an object like “it” in: “Jones said it.” Jones can enthuse, but he can’t enthuse it.

I suppose that, if I weren’t quite so horrified, I would allow that quotation attributions don’t necessarily need to be transitive verbs. “‘Earthworms are overpriced,’ Jones fumed.” But that would be stretching it. The truth is that attributed quotations are usually presumed to be simple subject-verb-object constructions, even if inverted.

John said, “hi.”
“Hi,” John said.

The bottom line: The verb “enthuse” is icky. But don't take my word for it:
* The verb enthuse is not well accepted. Its use in the sentence ‘The majority leader enthused over his party's gains’ was rejected by 76 percent of the Usage Panel in the late 1960s, and its status remains unfavorable: the same sentence was rejected by 65 percent of the Usage Panel in 1997. This lack of enthusiasm for enthuse is often attributed to its status as a back-formation; such words often meet with disapproval on their first appearance and only gradually become accepted over time. – American Heritage Dictionary

13 Comment count
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Rampant Enthusiasm

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m no hero. I only did what any of you would have done in my shoes. But I do gratefully accept this plaque and your heartfelt applause."

- June enthused

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Actually ...

... that was more of a gushing.

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Actually ...

... that was more of a gushing.

Well well well.

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And enthused is being used more and more

frequently. I have a physical reaction.

I have a question on "badly."

My long dead high school teacher used to pound this into our heads:

You don't say goodly, so don't say badly.

You don't say I felt goodly today, so don't say you felt badly.

What say you, Ms. Large House?

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Teacher could've explained it better

To express remorse or pity, true, it's "I feel bad." But the goodly comparison doesn't give a good picture as to why.

 The reason is that feel in this sentence is a linking or "copular" verb. Linking verbs sort of refer back to their subjects, which is why they're followed by adjectives:

I am happy

as opposed to adverbs

I am happily

"I feel badly" would be correct if you were saying you're not good at touching things with your hands. In that case, you really do need an adverb because you're describing the action and not the actor. Does that make sense?

I act good = I act as if I am good (act is linking verb)

I act well = I was good in my school production of "Grease" (act is regular verb)

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Yet a lot of

people say, "I feel badly for him," which should just be I feel bad for him. But more people use the word "badly" to sound more refined.

Mr. Rainer, my teacher, is rolling over in his grave.

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What is it about this time-honored, perfectly normal method of coinage that bothers so many word mavens? I understand your objection to the intransitive use, but what, really, is wrong with the word itself?

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Good Question

I think that back-formations often just plain sound weird for a while. Like the speaker is sort of scrambling for a word and then just making one up. I have no objection to "enthused" when used according to dictionary definitions. But I can see why some do.

But you raise a good point: Why is a back-formation any more irksome than any other process of coinage? Since most new words start out as technically wrong then slowly gain acceptance, why is this process more troubling to people?

Answer: I don't know. I wondered that, too, when I read American Heritage's usage note. Perhaps such back formations sound even more as though people at a loss for words are making them up as they go along? That's just a guess. I'm going to start paying more attention to these to see if I can understand this any better!

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What's interesting about the lack of acceptance of "enthused" is that, according to dictionary.com, the word was first used in 1820. How long does acceptance take, anyway?

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Another good question

I don't know. I think, ultimately, the lexicographers have a lot of say. As long as they qualify a usage with "this is still resisted by some," they're not fully sanctioning it. Theirs is a responsiblity I wouldn't want.

These "for a 'new' formation, it sure is old" situations happen a lot. People resist something "new," like till for until, then realize that till is actually the older of the two.

I do think "enthused" is pretty icky as quotation attribution. Especially in newspapers, which I edit, I think that 99 times out of 100, standard attributions like "said" sound best. That's a pretty common position, though admittedly subjective.

(That's the nice thing about being a copy editor -- my subjective view is king! Another example: I'm an absolute bear when it comes to unnecessary parentheses.)

: )

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I hate enthused

It rhymes with oozed ;) Something greasy about it.

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Unnecessary parentheses

Me, too (except when it's my own writing)!

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Thanks to our friends in the

Thanks to our friends in the MBA world, we are now capable of "verbifying" every conceivable noun, and most adjectives and adverbs.

Why don't we just eliminate all parts of speech. This would greatly happify a lot of folks.