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Posted: Fri Apr 06, 2007 7:09 am
by Ken Greenwald
I nominate the following word for installation into the Ugly Word Award Hall of Fame. I would have nominated it sooner – for it is not brand new – but I never had the displeasure of meeting up with it before:
<2007 “Not only are the shape and capacity of the cavities [[spent oil wells]] mapped, but also in many cases equipment is still on hand that could easily be repurposed from extraction to injection [[CO2 sequestration]].”—‘Time Magazine,’ 9 April, page 53>
This has got to be one of the god-awfulest words I’ve heard in a long time. It has the obnoxious sound of a noun getting verbed and to add insult to injury, then getting reed. But perhaps I’m being too harsh on it just because it sounds repulsive, as some unfamiliar usages often do till you get used to them. Actually, though, the usage of PURPOSE in this sense as a passive verb ain’t that new and has been around since circa 1400, so that PURPOSED, it would seem, has been an acceptable verb for well nigh 600 years. And the participle adjective, meaning having a purpose, has been around for some 450 years. I guess I somehow missed them during my brief sojourn on the planet.

PURPOSE verb transitive: To design or intend for some purpose. Only in passive: To be intended. Now rare according to the OED, but nevertheless listed in all the dictionaries that I checked.
<1553 “My choise of quietnes is not PURPOSED to lye in idleness.”—R. Aschamin in ‘Letters of Literary Men’ (Camden), page 14>

<1924 “What was the use of a stick PURPOSED to beat neither beast nor man?”—‘The Coming of Amos’ by W. J. Locke, v. page 53>
But the more recent incarnation of PURPOSED in REPURPOSED did not rear its ugly head until 1984, after which it became relatively popular in spite of my never having noticed it. The OED first recognized it in its online edition in 2004:

REPURPOSE transitive verb [‘re’ + ‘purpose’ (transitive verb)]: To convert or adapt (especially something holding electronic data) for use in a different format; to use for a different purpose.
<1984 “Visage products will allow developers to ‘REPURPOSE’ video discs—that is, use one video disc to produce many different video programs without pressing a new disc.”—‘PR Newswire’ (Nexis), 28 March>

<1995 “By 1992 the multimedia industry (led by Microsoft, IBM, and Apple) spent an estimated $200 million a year on research and development, hoping to convert PC users and ‘REPURPOSE’ existing materials to CDROM.”—‘Triumph & Erosion in the American Media & Entertainment Industries’ by D. E. Steinbock, v. page 157>

<1995 “In another example of what the industry calls ‘REPURPOSING,’ MGM's new interactive division has produced the CD-ROM title ‘Blown Away,’ derived from last summer's Tommy Lee Jones-as-mad-bomber flop, . . .”—‘Newsweek,’ 29 May, page 54>

<1999 “As the networks' traditional way of doing business stops working, the name of the new game is to own as much of the media pie as you can. ABC takes shows produced by sister studios and tries to REPURPOSE and repackage them on TV, cable and the Web.”—‘Newsweek,’ 26 April, page 44>

<2000 “MOST LIKELY TO HAVE A ROLE IN SOME FUTURE ELECTORAL CRISIS: Madeleine Albright. As Warren Christopher and James Baker have demonstrated in the Florida recount, former Secretaries of State can always be REPURPOSED.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 20 November>

<2002 “The same quality extra-virgin olive oil that's a staple in the kitchens of Daniel and Bouley Bakery has recently been REPURPOSED—as (what else?) a beauty aid.”—‘New York Magazine,’ 25 March, page 114/3>

<2003 “Anti-war slogan coined, REPURPOSED and Googlewashed … in 42 days.”—‘ ... repurposed,’ 3 April> [“the second superpower,” according to the article, went from meaning “the global anti-war protests” to “the web-connected community of folks looking out for the good of the world”]]

<2005 “. . . early Christian communities, church fathers, Pontiffs and random laity have colored in the lightly sketched character of Joseph, and in some cases extended his contour considerably. At first they elaborated his story to buttress embattled doctrines like the virginity of Mary. Later interpreters REPURPOSED him to respond to crises in the church or in society, as various Popes raised up the image of Joseph as the Family Father, the Worker, or the patron of the entire church.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 12 December>

<2007 “Instead of tearing down the industrial buildings, the city refurbished and REPURPOSED them as play barns and picnic sheds.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 18 January>

<2007 “. . . a brick farmhouse that was once the home of the auto engineer Enzio Ferrari, which will be renovated and REPURPOSED to display the cars he raced personally. ‘Time Magazine,’ 27 February>
<1988 “Text, graphics, and layout designs are available for reuse, updating, and REPURPOSING for a number of different contexts.”—‘Small Computers in Libraries,’ April, page 28/2>

<1989 “Productivity applications that have the capability to either standalone or drive existing or REPURPOSED multimedia CD-ROMs or videodiscs.”—‘Optical Information Systems,’ Vol. 9, page 245/1>

<1997 “We present information, and it is all REPURPOSED material." Translation: everything in the magazine [[Martha Stewart Living]] will be recycled through all Stewart's media and merchandise outlets.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 6 October>

<2001 “There are far more agents in the system (twenty-four-hour news networks, headline pagers, newsweeklies, Web sites), and far more repackagings and REPURPOSINGS of source materials.”—‘Emergence’ by S. Johnson, iv. page 134>

<2001 “With tons of room to play with, studios are creating entirely new products, not simply the same ‘REPURPOSED’ theatrical movies that VHS was stuck with.”—‘Newsweek,’ 20 August, page 30>

<2002 “Thanks, in large part, to the aurally omnipresent Moby, the odium that used to attach to commercially REPURPOSED pop songs has been eliminated.”—‘New York Times Magazine,’ 15 December, page 132/1>

<2005 “To get a sense of both the promise and the perils of the adviser program, just look at the base of the new Iraqi army's 303rd Battalion, in western Baghdad. Outside the gates of the compound is a REPURPOSED Taco Bell sign that reads THE ALAMO.”— ‘Time Magazine,’ 18 April>

<2006 “The product is a ready-to-use organic plant-food spray, made from the excrement of worms fed on compost and packaged in REPURPOSED soda bottles.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 1 October>

<2006 “The goal is to teach kids to be discerning consumers of information and to research, formulate and defend their own views, says Stroud, who is founder and principal of the four-year-old public school, which is located in a REPURPOSED handbag factory.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 10 December>

<2007 “It's [[new Spanish-language network TV]] show for Wednesday at 9? ‘Creencias,’ a REPPURPOSED version of PBS's "Religion and Ethics newsweekly’ that featured pieces on home schooling and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. ‘Newsweek,’ 19 March, page >
O.K., O.K. So I found lots of examples (including ~ 660,000 Google hits) and therefore there must be a reason people are using it. Well, perhaps REPURPOSE might serve a purpose (but that wouldn't be enough stop me from disliking it), however, I’m not certain what that purpose is. If one can say the same thing decently, and avoid the use of this lamentable word, with the same economy of words, then it would seem that there wasn’t much purpose in inventing a new one except perhaps for ‘shock’ value and maybe the joy of creating a an obnoxious new buzzword. The 2007 Time Magazine quote at the top of the page, took 30 words to say what it had to say. I found that I could say the same thing in two ways, one with 30 words and other – the nitpicker’s special – in 32 as follows:.

1) “ . . . but also in many cases equipment is still on hand whose use could be converted from extraction to injection.” (30 words)

2) “. . . but also in many cases equipment is still on hand the use of which could be converted from extraction to injection.” (32 words)

So, at least as far as conserving words goes, my first version has the same number of words as the original sentence and seems to say the same thing. The only objection to that sentence might be the old argument that ‘whose’ should only be applied to animate objects, but that view according to many grammarians seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. So, with no grammar advantage, unless someone can point one out, and no economy of words advantage (and we all know how much I am into economy of words (&lt)), I see no good reason to use it. But, evidently, there are others who feel differently and who just loves creating new words and verbing nouns whenever they get the chance. Well they can do what they want, but I, for one, am for relegating this baby to a prime spot on the list of all-time stinkers.

(Oxford English Dictionary and digital archives)

Ken G – April 5, 2007


Posted: Fri Apr 06, 2007 7:51 am
by Erik_Kowal
Ken, how would you feel if you received an email with the subject line RE: Purpose?



Posted: Fri Apr 06, 2007 1:34 pm
by Ken Greenwald
Erik, I would feel reused and would re-purposely delete it. I’m also anxiously awaiting the release of James Henry White’s sequel A REPURPOSEFUL LIFE so I can have the pleasure of not reading it! (&lt)

Ken – April 6, 2007


Posted: Fri Apr 06, 2007 1:53 pm
by Gandalfbeb
I am fascinated that American English (or is that American-English) often uses old English words which are no longer in current English usage. For example, "gotten". At the same time there is a penchant for inventing new words when there already exist perfectly suitable ones.
I agree that "repurposed" should be relegated to the bin. It's just ugly. However, my real distress is that according to your thorough research so many people have been using it. I think I am getting old and ever more conservative.


Posted: Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:30 pm
by gdwdwrkr
It's not the word that I mind, it's one concept behind it, for which we already have a good word: flaky.

How does one NOT pronounce repurpose? Does it rhyme with reaper's hose? or re purr-piss?


Posted: Fri Apr 06, 2007 9:28 pm
by Edwin Ashworth
Perhaps it's been repronounced.


Posted: Sat Apr 07, 2007 5:25 am
by Erik_Kowal
The context of 'repurpose' with which I am most familiar involves the reuse of some worn-out or otherwise useless artifact to wring some extra mileage out of it. Ugly as 'repurpose' may or may not be, this is a concept that deserves to be named, and 'repurpose' seems to me to be as good a word as any.

Which leads me to the now-pertinent question of how we are going to repurpose G W Bush, R Cheney, D Rumsfeld and K Rove (that is, besides encouraging them all to stand in a circle and simultaneously shoot each other; considering the others are all his friends, our fearless VP at least should require little prompting).


Posted: Sat Apr 07, 2007 8:46 pm
by Ken Greenwald
Erik, Now that you mention it, I think the concept has already been named – in some instances at least – with the good old word RECYCLE:


1) To alter or adapt for new use without changing the essential form or nature of: The old factory is being recycled as a theater. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary)

2) To recondition and adapt to a new use or function: recycling old warehouses as condominiums (American Heritage Dictionary)

3) To adapt to a new use : Alter, transform, <“Recycle recent real events into prime time entertainment.”—Karl Meyer> (Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

4) To use again differently: To adapt or convert something to a new use (Encarta)

5) To reuse or adapt to a new use. (Wordsmyth English Dictionary)

Ken – April 7, 2006


Posted: Sat Apr 07, 2007 10:11 pm
by gdwdwrkr
Recycle seems to be external and process-oriented.
Repurpose seems to include more intention and motivation.


Posted: Sat Apr 07, 2007 10:46 pm
by Wizard of Oz
.. Erik might I ask that you allow our Little Johnny Howard to join your daisy chain ?? .. if the shooting option is taken you will have to supply a box for him to stand on so that they don't miss .. ta ..

WoZ of Aus 08/04/07


Posted: Mon Apr 09, 2007 6:19 pm
by MamaPapa
Ken Greenwald wrote: This has got to be one of the god-awfulest words I’ve heard in a long time. It has the obnoxious sound of a noun getting verbed and to add insult to injury, then getting reed. But perhaps I’m being too harsh on it just because it sounds repulsive, as some unfamiliar usages often do till you get used to them.
eeeeeeeww...reverberated nouns...


Posted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 1:15 am
by mongrowl
I think the concept has already been named – in some instances at least – with the good old word RECYCLE:
NO, I sharply disagree. Your speech and esthetics are free, but indicative of the poor selection of this term 'recycle' for the much clearer 'repurpose', in the first place. The original cycle of most objects are a complex string of phase changes from ore to product. So recycling would entail some retardation to a prior phase when the product may have been bulk plastic, cellulose, or sheet metal. "Repurpose" could be considered a more legal form of "property conversion" in legal jargon.


Posted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 12:51 pm
by nettie
Some words annoy me simply because of the speaker who uses it and then continues using it and using it .... As a grade school teacher we are constantly being tortured with the administrations new word of the moment. Revisit is one I'd be happy to never hear again- "we need to revist non-fiction books or revist subtraction." You don't hear many people say they are going to revisit Florida or revist their cousins.


Posted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 2:05 pm
by gdwdwrkr
each and every....
first and foremost...
..all teachers' habitually-used terms designed to test students' patients.[sick]


Posted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 11:04 pm
by nettie
Hey-the first part I don't get at all and I'm sure I should know whatever it is that you refering to, but I don't. Secondly being a teacher myself I like the doctors first and foremost... better-guess I should have stayed in college another eight or so years.