Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Social Networking" is not a noun

One might think that I'm a stickler for grammar, after all I did write a whole post on the subjunctive mood (first there, then copied to here), but I'm really not.  I'm generally happy to let language evolve in whichever direction it pleases and welcome new grammatical constructions rather quickly.  However some things do irk me.

See the title.  That is all.

Though you might want context, in which case that isn't all.

I have satellite TV, and for the longest time that was something that you only had in the middle of nowhere, and if you should ever drive through the middle of nowhere keep an eye out and you'll probably see a sign of how far satellite TV has come because there's a sort of icon of middle of nowhere progress that always seems to be there if you drive long enough and keep your eyes open.  That icon being the modern satellite dish attached to an outdated one which simply dwarfs it.  The new one is small enough for a person to carry around, the old one is the size of a car or bigger.

Now a lot more people have satellite TV, but it is still something used by people in the middle of nowhere. Which means that if you have to reach people in the middle of nowhere for your business to work, putting commercials on satellite TV is a pretty good idea.  These commercials can get very annoying after a certain saturation point, and some are annoying from the fist time you see them.  Especially considering that I do not live in the middle of nowhere and so the commercial, whichever one it may be, is directed at people who are very much not me.

Now before we get into that, let's get back to "Social Networking".  It's a verb.  I'd say take it as a two word verb but if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty networking is the verb and "social" is describing what kind of networking it is.

It can be used like a noun, it can be used like an adjective, it can be used in all kinds of ways.  Like "swimming".  Swimming is a verb.  ("I was swimming," "She is swimming," "He had been swimming," "It will have been swimming for two hours by the time we get there.")  But it can be used as a noun ("I am a fan of swimming," "She chose swimming over riding," "The line between swimming and floating is sometimes hard to define."  "Swimming is good.")  Or an adjective, for example a swimming cap, "swimming" modifies the noun "cap".

So, if you're wondering whether you're using the term "social networking" properly, just replace it with the word "swimming" and see if the resulting sentence makes your brain do a grammatical "What the fuck?"

In particular some constructions call for a noun, an actual noun not a verb functioning as one.  The one in question is "this [blank]" or "this whole [blank]".

With the right modifier inserted between "this" and "[blank]" the blank can be filled with a verb acting as a noun.  For example, "I really like this sideways swimming" works where, "I really like this swimming," doesn't.  The reason is that "this swimming" implies that there's such a thing as "that swimming," which there can't be because "swimming" here is functioning as a noun that basically means, "the abstract idea of the activity denoted by the verb 'to swim'," and thus covers all swimming so there can be no "that swimming," as distinguished from "this swimming" because "swimming" covers both.  By inserting a limiting modifier (example above: sideways) you can have an understood "that" which "this [modifier] [blank]" is distinguished from (in the example above it is understood to be all non-sideways swimming.)

In general saying "this [verb functioning as a noun]" as an object of a sentence will make you sound like someone speaking English as a second language (and one who has only just recently experienced the verb).  I say in general because there are exceptions, but most of the time it makes it seem like this conversation has just taken place:
"I really like this... this... What do you call this?"
"I really like this 'swimming'."
The same isn't really true of "this whole [blank]" because the "whole" negates the idea that there is a "that [blank]" to be distinguished from "this [blank]".  The "whole" means that you're talking about all of the [blank] which means that the "this" isn't distinguishing from "that" but instead pointing to something, a real full fledged noun.  Until you get to one the sentence isn't over.  "I really like this whole swimming..." is not a full sentence.  I needs a noun at the end to close it otherwise it becomes, "This whole swimming what?"

Here is a list of things that would work, it is in no way complete, just a list of examples:
I really like this whole swimming concept.
I really like this whole swimming club.
I really like this whole swimming idea.
I really like this whole swimming site.
I really like this whole swimming trend.
I really like this whole swimming pool.
I really like this whole swimming thing.
Yes, "thing" will work.  And it's the go-to word if the reason for saying "I really like this whole [blank]" is to have more emphasis than, "I really like [blank]," while communicating the same concept.

Now, back to satellite TV.

I don't know much about HughesNet beyond the fact that it is satellite internet intended for people who would otherwise be limited to dial-up or nothing as a result of living in the middle of nowhere.  Their sales pitch seriously boils down to, "We're not the best, but given your limited options we're better than the alternative."  Except that I don't live in the middle of nowhere, and my options aren't as limited as the commercial assumes they must be and I can very much get better based on where I live.

The good news is that they didn't use "whole" at least the only partial transcript I can find says they didn't and I'm not about to search through all of their commercials just to double check on one word.

[Added] Nope transcript was wrong, corrections below in blue. [/added]

Anyway, every time I hear, "I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking," I want to scream out, "THING!  You're just getting into this social networking thing, or trend, or maybe you're just getting into social networking."  Because unless she's using "social" as the limiting modifier to distinguish from all of the other types of networking she was totally into before she got a decent internet connection while she was living in the middle of nowhere where the spaces are wide open and dial up seemed like the only option, she can't stop the sentence there.  English does not work that way.  If she dropped the "this whole" it would be fine, if she stuck any noun at the end to the sentence it would at least make grammatical sense if not logical sense (I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking donkey.)  But no, they had to leave it screwy-like.  And it hurts, like having to listen to someone play off notes on an out of tune instrument that has a tendency to resemble nails on a chalkboard.

"I'm just finally getting into social networking." - - - - - - - - Works fine
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking." - - - - - Is nonsense
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking thing." - Works fine
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking trend." - Works fine
"I'm just finally getting into this whole social networking table." - Is nonsense but at least works grammatically.

Seriously, use the "swimming" test.  If someone says:
"I'm just finally getting into this whole swimming," it's a fragment.

This swimming what?  This swimming pool, this swimming meet, this swimming club, this swimming competition, this swimming retreat, this swimming mood, this swimming what? (Add a "whole" to all of those.)

"Social Networking" is not a noun.  It can function as one, but only in certain situations.  "I like/dislike social networking," uses it as a noun just fine.  "I like/dislike this whole social networking," does not.  The same could be said of using it with an article.  "I like/dislike a/the social networking," doesn't function as a sentence either.


  1. Ah, the gerund, formerly known as the verb-noun infinitive. A trick I also find useful is to replace it with the pure infinitive form - "to swim" in your example - which works for a gerund ("swimming is fun" -> "to swim is fun") but not for a gerundive (adjectival/adverbial form, which in English is inconveniently identical to the gerund) or the more complex constructs you're using here.

  2. Er, yeah, I was going to say that. I think something like 'I like this social networking' is more a diction problem than grammar... because of 'this', it refers to a specific instance of social networking. I like *this* (particular manner of?) social networking, but not *that* social networking. Same basic concept as 'I like this (smooth(?)) sailing.', or the like. Or the 'this' could refer to 'social', for that matter...