The shock of seeing a new verb anniversarying

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The Business Diary of a UK newspaper, The Independent (see it here) complains:

Taking liberties with language

Debenhams is a much-loved high-street institution, but surely it can't just reinvent the English language? The retailer seems to think it is acceptable to use the word "anniversary" as a verb. "This will anniversary as we move into the first quarter of 2011," its market update says of one of its businesses. Worse, the idea is catching on. Here's Investec on Marks & Spencer's progress: "Better-balanced autumn ranges should allow M&S to anniversary tougher comparisons". Stop it please.

If you know Language Log, you are probably thinking that I will point out that anniversary has often been used as a verb and the writer is a dope with no sense of how to check an empirical claim, and that in the comments after I have said what I think Mark Liberman will chime in with several examples from 18th century poetry. Isn't that right?

But no, things are not always as you expect. I checked this out, and I think it is right to say that anniversary has almost never been used as a verb before. The diarist has some justification.

I don't mean to suggest that there's anything particularly wrong with verbing new nouns, of course: you can pretty much verb any noun you want to verb. But if you pick a solidly nouny noun and use it without warning or precedent as a verb, it may cause a certain shock, and the people who say "Whoa, wait a minute!" are not wrong to object: you are stepping right outside the bounds of their linguistic experience, and you can't expect them to pretend that isn't so.

There appear at first to be nearly ten thousand Google hits for will anniversary. But look more closely. Almost none of them are what we are looking for (except for the original stock exchange story about Debenhams that is at issue).

Some of them refer to the anniversary edition of a video game on which my extremely cool video-game programmer son Calvin worked when he was at Crystal Dynamics: it was released as Lara Croft Tomb Raider Anniversary, and the reviewers call it "Anniversary" for short, using sentences like "It didn't tease players with lush environments by not letting them explore it the way they wanted and neither will Anniversary" (see this page), where "Anniversary" is just a proper noun.

There are other sources for spurious hits, like the page here that says "Will anniversary festivities be confined to Virginia and its admirers?" — since an auxiliary verb can appear before a subject, polar interrogative clauses provide a rich source of potential hits.

Google's dropping of inflectional endings gives rise to a few more spurious hits, like "Sasha's father comes for Sasha and Will's anniversary".

Another high-ranked hit looks like a simple typo to me. You can read it here, where it says:

NEW YORK (Billboard) – The Smashing Pumpkins will play a host of shows in the coming months to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

According to the group's Web site (, the Billy Corgan-fronted band will visit "mostly smaller-sized venues" during an August run featuring "unique sets and songs."

So far the only date announced is August 9 at the Venue in Hammond, Ind. Come November, the Pumpkins will anniversary shows at bigger venues in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and additional cities to be announced.

It seems clear enough that a word has been dropped: the text was supposed to read "the Pumpkins will do anniversary shows at bigger venues in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles…" (or "perform", or some similar verb).

Other occurrences of "will anniversary" look to me like errors attributable to disastrously bad automatic translations, possibly from Chinese (come in, Victor Mair), that people have put on the web in the vain hope that they may help Anglophone readers to keep up with developments. Here is one (see it here):

Tajikistan, Samsung, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Olympus hundreds of new digital products focused on new live stationed in Tower Hall, then, the high, fine, new, sharp products will anniversary During the celebration focused on running, including limited and the New Year.

Another hit is a headline on this page, which I quote in full:

The United States will anniversary of northeast China signed a treaty and divided

The article continues thus:

The web WangHuan practice reporter reports, New Hampshire to September 5 year for the Portsmouth to mark the anniversary of the treaty, the war of Russia in 1905, signed the treaty of Portsmouth. In 1904, February 8 days in China and war, war ends and through the Portsmouth treaty to the northeast of China.

Complete gibberish, to put it plainly. And there is plenty more where that came from.

And so the list goes on. I am not going to read every one of the hits, the use of anniversary as a verb seems fantastically rare.

Let me not disappoint you, however: I was finally able to find at least one genuine hit, driving the date of verbing back to not later than October 2007. Here is the beginning of a corporate release about Macy's:

2006 Inaugural Event Raised Nearly $10 Million for Charities Around the Country

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Oct. 9, 2007–Macy's (NYSE:M) today announced that it will anniversary last fall's successful national "Shop For A Cause" charity shopping event which raised nearly $10 million for charities across the U.S. This year's Shop For A Cause event will take place in all Macy's stores and on on Saturday, October 13.

To say that the Debenhams announcement was reinventing the English language, then, is strictly not true. American business-speak had already verbed anniversary. The train has left the station.

And the acid test of that is to look for another inflected form of anniversary; for example, to look for "has anniversaried". Sure enough, there are about 60 hits for it, though all seem to be business-speak: "the company has anniversaried major cost-cutting initiatives", "the foreign exchange has anniversaried", "the co[mpany] has anniversaried its acquisition of Hummingbird", "now that it has anniversaried the price reduction period from a year ago", and so on. The train has left the station and is fairly chugging along through the business countryside.

However, Language Log tries to be fair: it seems safe to say that this usage is still so rare that we can forgive the business diarist in The Independent for reacting as if stung by a bee. He was right, basically: the Debenhams announcement is not (yet) normal Standard English, especially not in Britain. Check back in twenty years.

[Hat tip for the reference to The Independent: Keith Pullum.]


  1. Mark P said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 8:43 am

    Verbed nouns are generally not a problem for me, but I have to work too hard to understand this one. I'm basically lazy, so I figure the writer/speaker rather than the reader/listener should do most of the work when trying to communicate an idea.

  2. Toma said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 8:50 am

    Yes, this one would take some getting used to. Right now, it sounds wrong, or at best jargony. I love the phrase "nouny noun," by the way, and it seems to be a good test of the suitability of verbing nouns. Some nouns are nounier than others.

  3. MattF said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 8:55 am

    It's notable that the complainer was the 'business diarist'– this strengthens the biz-speak hypothesis. A closer look at your 60 hits might even give a hint about the location of 'patient zero'.

  4. richard howland-bolton said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 9:04 am

    It seems, on your evidence to be limited to shopping. Maybe it's a term of art??

  5. Moritz said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 9:13 am

    I still fully expect myl to chime in with a couple of examples from 18th century poetry. ;)

    There are some odd things in the paragraph on the treaty signing in the middle. The first link seems to contain HTML, maybe a misspelled closing tag? What's even stranger is that the second link doesn't work for me: "Firefox can't find the server at" Google Cache reveals the whole site is just gibberish, so it's not a great loss.

  6. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    Like Mark P, I have big problems trying to figure out what some of these mean.

    I can figure out "Macy's (NYSE:M) today announced that it will anniversary last fall's successful national "Shop For A Cause" charity shopping event which raised nearly $10 million for charities across the U.S. " It means (I think) that Macy's is repeating an event it held last year, on the event's anniversary. So more broadly, the meaning of the construction anniversary NP is something like 'observe the anniversary of NP'.

    If I'm right about this, the construction only works if the NP denotes something that is capable of having an anniversary. But what do we do with "Better-balanced autumn ranges should allow M&S to anniversary tougher comparisons"? WTF does it mean to observe the anniversary of tougher comparisons?

  7. Janne said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 9:32 am

    Neal, I think the verbed meaning is "repeat next year". So "to anniversary tougher comparisons" would be to have or to be able to withstand (depends on the previous context I guess) tougher comparisons again, like they did last year. This would fit with its origin being in retail business, where yearly cycles feature very large.

  8. JimG said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 9:43 am

    Janne may be right, but Occam might ask what the word was before Cupertino struck.

  9. a George said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 10:22 am

    I tried to be proactive and actually use the verb in a Google search, hence "anniversaried the". I easily got back to 2007. One reference found was:

    "Posted: 07-24-2009 Review: My husband and I have been eating at Flamingo's for over 10 years now. We live 3 hours away in Columbia, however one Saturday night we just HAD to have Flamingo's so drove 3 hours there, ate dinner and then drove 3 hours home. If you spend 6 hours in a car driving to eat an hour long meal, then you KNOW this place is awesome! The crab cake is a must have, and the bartender makes a mean Cosmopolitian! Somehow we always have Patrick as our waiter and he is just great! Every year on our anniversary we eat there and they give us buttons that say "I've Been Anniversaried" The owner (if on site) comes by the table to check on your needs and the quality of the food/service and is a super nice guy! If you don't eat at any other resturant in Myrtle Beach, SC, you simply must eat here! Mmmmmmm……
    Columbia, South Carolina"

    Another one takes us back to 2004:
    "Next year is key for the industry, Fitch reported, as the effects of several protracted union strikes that took place during 2003-2004 will be “anniversaried.” The results in 2005 should paint a picture as to how the supermarket companies are able to maintain and/or grow their core customer base.
    Publication: Progressive Grocer
    Date: Tuesday, December 7 2004"

    Note that the anonymous reporter realizes that he/she is on thin ice when verbing.

    I stretched my patience to the maximum and brought the expression back to the 20th century by the following:
    "Avon Russia anniversaried the devaluation of the ruble and delivered a local currency sales gain of 27% versus prior year, …..", which is from a 'M E S S A G E T O S H A R E H O L D E R S' by Andrea Jung, President & Chief Executive Officer, March 1, 2000.

    Oh, the wonders of the web!

    [You hold the predating record so far, preceding mine by 7 years… but only for about 11 minutes (I can see into the future). —GKP]

  10. Ian Preston said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 10:33 am

    From the OED: 1861 Sat. Rev. 23 Nov. 535 The kindred societies which came to be anniversaried on that day at Aylesbury.

    [Nice work! Anniversaried at Aylesbury, and a date of 1861, makes you the current world predating champ, by a cool 139 years. But only for a little while; I can tell you are going to be eclipsed… —GKP]

  11. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    Hmm, I'd expect the verb form to be to annivert, retaining the root verb vertere as in "divert", etc. Unfortunately, theres a place in Haiti called Annivert that messes up the Googling.

    I'd even be prepared to defend to anniverse as a back-formation along the lines of "nursery" => "nurse".

  12. Pflaumbaum said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 10:38 am

    To verb it in what Simon Heffer might call an 'etymologically strict' way would give 'annivert', which is a bit more elegant I suppose. Marketing types could speculate about whether a product is really annivertible and if so whether any tweaks should me made to this year's anniversion. Or they could try having a new idea for a change.

  13. Pflaumbaum said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 10:41 am

    Er, my last sentence being a bit ironic in the light of Dan's post…

  14. Barrie England said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    'The Indepedent' has it quite wrong. Debenhams is not much-loved.

  15. Kevin said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    This isn't business speak so much as investment analyst speak. It's used when discussing year-over-year growth rates relevant to a company's financial performance. E.g. comparisons is the sales growth rate for a certain subset of a retail company's store base. Tough comparisons, or more colloquially, tough comps, is a very high sales growth rate. If you anniversary tough comps this month, it means your sales growth over the last 12 months was lower than the preceding 12 months. This is a positive way of spinning a bad year because it implies it will be easier to show good sales growth going forward.

    Another common example is to anniversary an acquisition. This means you bought a company 12 months ago and your sales growth figures have been inflated because numerator included the acquired company's revenue, but the denominator did not. Now that you have anniversaried it, the reported sales growth will be a more accurate measure of the companies "organic" growth rate.

    For more examples, you can search the transcript archive at;NB:1

  16. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    I'm still peeving about three-year anniversary instead of third anniversary. I won't be able to peeve about the verb anniversary for quite a while, probably not till after it's well established.

    @Kevin: Thanks for the expert knowledge, but is it okay if I didn't quite follow that?

  17. Mr Punch said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:37 am

    This does appear to be a term with a fairly narrow application in certain business contexts – so far. I'll be unhappy, but not surprised, when I read that "the couple, who married five years ago, are anniversarying in Bali."

  18. Ross Burns said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    To my mind, 'to anniversary' is acceptable.

  19. Greg said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    Normally I'm a fan of linguistic innovation. (E.g., lately I've been trying to add "tryna" to my everyday lexicon; I love it!) But my feeling is that when verbing a noun it should be clear to a reader/hearer what the general meaning is even after one or two uses, and "to anniversary" fails that criterion for me (and for several other readers, judging by comments above). Indeed, even after the discussion and several examples in comments, I find myself utterly confused about the proper use of verbed "anniveray."

  20. groki said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:46 am

    the OP's first quote felt the most awkward for me, and I think the reason is that–unlike the later quotes in the posting and the comments–the verb there is intransitive. maybe that's what The Independent didn't like.

  21. groki said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:49 am

    well, except the example from Mr Punch that showed up while I was typing, which doesn't seem as awkward to me. another theory shot down.

  22. Joseph said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    When I first read the headline for some reason I thought of a completely different use.

    Has anyone heard the usage of anniversary as a verb like:

    "We anniversaried in Spain last year"

    I would take this to mean we celebrated our anniversary in Spain last year.

    For some reason that just came to my mind as a use of anniversary as a verb in the sense of spending an anniversary somewhere.

    I think this might be me just making an association with using holiday as a verb, but a more specific holiday that is taken for an anniversary.

    Did anyone else think of the usage I just mentioned or am I alone here?

  23. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    Google Book Search turns up an example from 1842:

    > Most men, and most parties, and most nations, can gain no triumph over their opponents, without fêting and anniversarying it for ever after.


    [Yay! Ran Ari Gur is now the record holder for finding early occurrences. We are back to 1842, and once again we learn that people have been neologizing in this language for centuries. It doesn't alter my point much: this verb never did catch on, and occurrences of it today seem extremely rare. But there were sporadic signs of it as early as 168 years ago! —GKP]

  24. NW said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 11:58 am

    Google Books' hits for 'anniversaried' find a few interestingly different uses, such as:

    The last guest had happy-anniversaried the couple and the porch light was out.

    someone would complain that a tedious old movie on television "hundredth-anniversaried me."

    To tell you the truth I am a trifle anniversaried out after the various 1400th celebrations of the reconstitution of the Diocese of London

    Personally I love seeing how freely yet comprehensibly our morphosyntax can do these things.

    [Yes, these are different: two are compound verbs: happy-anniversary (meaning "say ‘Happy Anniversary’ to") and hundredth-anniversary (apparently meaning something like "turn up because of a centenary"?); and the third is the conferenced-out construction: anniversaried out means "tired out in some way that relates to anniversaries (e.g., tired of celebrating them)". None are the verb we're looking for. —GKP]

  25. Brian RG said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

    If "nouny" implies resistance to being verbed, then "noun" is presumably not very nouny, since it can be adjectived as "nouny", or verbed as "nouned." Which is a bit of a paradox for the definition of "noun". Oh, and I guess "adjective" is not very nouny either.

  26. Peter E said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

    Earliest business-related example I could find was from 1990, with a handful of other examples popping up throughout the 90s on Factiva:

    "Our spring business was actually better than expected since we anniversaried Red," continued Burke, who predicted the pace will pick up during the second half of 1990. "Our numbers are not as challenging in the fourth quarter," he said."

    Tammi Howard. "Midwest brightens for fall following lackluster spring."

    And here's a particularly garbled-but seemingly natural and fully inflected-example of some of its current business-speak usage from a 2009 'Earnings Call Transcript:'

    "Paul Garcia: […]In terms of that big ISO that anniversaried, they did anniversary a while ago but they’ve added increments of business since and that is anniversarying as we speak too because they didn’t come on just day one, it took them awhile to convert all that business."

  27. James Kabala said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

    Has anyone (here or elsewhere) ever documented the history of "reference" as a verb? I never remember hearing it until 7 or 8 years ago at the most, but these days it is ubiquitous. It is truly new or am I wrong?

  28. mollymooly said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    Google Books has G.G.Michelson, Senior VP of Macy's in 1983, telling 'Corporate giving watch' that "Local stores budget in advance and tend to anniversary the organizations they support. It's hard for a new organization." I think in this quote to "anniversary" something means to "deal with in the same way as last year, in order to avoid the hassle of planning it out from first principles". If so, the verb is quite succinct.

  29. Chandra said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    @Kevin: So is "to anniversary" in business-speak something like "to put off dealing with until next year"?

  30. Claw said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    On the topic of business speak, one widespread corporate usage that I find particularly grating is the nouning of the word, learning. While learning is a valid gerund that refers to the act of acquiring knowledge, the noun form refers to lessons that have been learned and quite often appears in the plural, e.g.:

    We will apply these learnings when we start our next planning phase.

    Almost always, these instances can be replaced with the perfectly valid and standard word, lesson.

    As a regular LL reader, I am perfectly cognizant of the fact that words often acquire new meanings and usages, and that the train has already left the station on this one, more so than to anniversary (just Google "learnings" and you'll see plenty of examples, including sites that mock and denigrate this usage), but this particular example is still no less grating to me. Does anyone know if this usage is relatively recent or is there precedent for it?

  31. Faldone said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    @ Jerry Friedman

    You have to state that it is the N year anniversary so it won't be confused with the N month, or even N week anniversary. Stick anniversary in the room with decimate and quarantine and close the door. Let your peeves chew on them there without bothering you.

  32. Peter said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    Kevin's examples don't seem nearly as awkward to me as those in the OP! Perhaps the problem here is that marketing/PR people are picking up a well-established technical usage, without quite understanding its subtleties; so their use ends up rather crude and unclear, and the verbing jars more as a result?

  33. Bill Walderman said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    "it seems safe to say that this usage is still be so rare that we can forgive the business diarist in The Independent for reacting as if stung by a bee." I was stung by a be when I read this.

    [Nicely put! Correction accepted. I have fixed the post so the spurious extra copula is gone. —GKP]

  34. Kylopod said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

    Are there any five-syllable verbs without any standard verb affixes (e.g. -ate)?

  35. Dan T. said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

    On occasion, when a comic book series reaches a milestone issue number such as #100, #200, etc., they have cover-captioned it "200th Anniversary Issue", even though the series isn't actually 200 years old. It's due to (mis)usages like this that people feel the need to clarify with "40th year anniversary".

  36. Kevin said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    @Chandra: it's not about putting something off. to anniversary means 12 months have passed since the event or end of the period in question.

    it's used in contexts where investors are discussing financial measures expressed as year-over-year percentage changes. if 12 months have passed, then the thing that was anniversaried will not affect future that financial measure in the future.

    "This will anniversary as we move into the first quarter of 2011" means the thing they're talking about happened in the fourth quarter of 2009.

    @Peter: i think the first example is ok and it was most likely made by an M&S executive. it would probably appear less awkward if the sentence that originally preceded was included in the quote. the second example, however, doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I agree that it could have come from someone without an investment background.

  37. Jon W said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

    @Claw: It's an old usage. Try Ben. Johnson: "It is not the passing through these learnings that hurts us, but the dwelling and sticking about them. To descend to those extreme anxieties and foolish cavils of grammarians, is able to break a wit in pieces . . . ."

  38. richard said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

    I'm curious about this notion of nouny nouns. What would form the basis for a noun's resistance to verbing (or adjectiving), and is that resistance a yes/no sort of thing, or a (possibly quantifiable) potential? I'm guessing that part of the basis for resistance to verbing (really, I suppose resistance among speakers to accept verbing) would be sound rules and syllabic complexity. As a musician, for example, I could see someone jokingly saying "you should hemidemisemiquaverize that run," but that would seem to sesquipedalianate a bit too much to be an acceptable innovation.

  39. Dan T. said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

    Is a "nouny noun" like a "girly girl"?

  40. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 16, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

    @Faldone: If I say today is the third anniversary of something, will people really think I might mean the three-week or three-month annniversary? I doubt it.

    Considering your examples of quarantine and decimate, I wonder whether you think what I dislike about three-year anniversary has to do with the etymology. It doesn't. I just don't like changes in the direction of greater length and complication without any improvement in clarity.

  41. Nathan Myers said,

    September 17, 2010 @ 4:14 am

    My unfavorable reaction to verbed anniversary seems, on (canonically unreliable, I know) introspection, to stem from distaste for the inevitable "anniversarying". I'm a little surprised to find myself idly inflecting unfamiliar words, but there it is.

  42. maidhc said,

    September 17, 2010 @ 5:01 am

    "Anniversary" as an intransitive verb doesn't strike me as any worse than "honeymoon". A "moon" is a month, the "honeymoon" is the first month of marriage. But it was verbed quite a while ago.

    I'd be reluctant to see "birthday" verbed. It would have to be transitive: "Bob's friends birthdayed him Tuesday night at the American Legion Hall".

    I've seen "farewell" used as a transitive verb: "Bob's friends farewelled him Tuesday night at the RSL", but only in Australia. I think I've mentioned this before without getting any response. Has anyone spotted this usage anywhere else?

  43. DCA said,

    September 18, 2010 @ 1:07 am

    Farewell as a verb is standard in New Zealand and Australia–so much so that people I spoke to there (in 1995) were surprised to hear that it wasn't standard elsewhere.

  44. Martin Ellison said,

    September 19, 2010 @ 3:18 am

    Claw: A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep….? (1709)

  45. Sili said,

    September 19, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

    If "nouny" implies resistance to being verbed, then "noun" is presumably not very nouny, since it can be adjectived as "nouny", or verbed as "nouned." Which is a bit of a paradox for the definition of "noun". Oh, and I guess "adjective" is not very nouny either.

    I guess that makes "noun" more nounish than nouny.

  46. Anton Sherwood said,

    March 14, 2014 @ 1:35 am

    I found this post by searching for anniversary+verb because I recently heard a corporate CFO say: "[Revenue from one product line] grew about 21% for the full year 2013. We expect it to grow about 12% in 2014, in consideration of the larger revenue base, and as we anniversary a few major product roll-outs."

    It was opaque to me the first time, but now I guess he's saying that, after the first anniversary of a product launch, you naturally can't expect such big year-on-year growth in that line. I was thrown by the active, transitive construction; he seems to be saying the company plans to do something about those rollouts.

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