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verb [transitive]

to make something more environmentally-friendly


noun [uncountable]

'The program has greened the zoo's primate exhibit and courtyard by installing rain barrels and cisterns to harvest water runoff from rooftops …'

Syracuse New Times 20th April 2011

'Of all the sustainability initiatives, day cleaning is "the biggest bang for the buck; it didn't cost anything," said Marion Coker, manager of strategic business planning and sustainability … The transportation agency said the change, made 20 months ago, had contributed, along with other greening measures, to a 12 percent reduction in energy use.'

Columbus Dispatch 10th April 2011

There are many colour words in the English language which we use in extended meanings – consider blue for sadness (She's feeling blue.), white for honesty and innocence (a white lie, a lily-white reputation), and black for a serious or unpleasant perspective (the blackest moment in history) – but among these, the granddaddy of them all has to be the word green. As well as referring to the colour of grass and other vegetation, green can be used to describe envy, inexperience, illness and, from the 20th century onwards, environmental conscience. It's this latter sense, whose rise in frequency has been exponential in recent years, which leaves contemporary dictionary writers scratching their heads in an effort to decide what the 'core' meaning of green really is in the 21st century, since the environmental angle has undoubtedly eclipsed all others. And there's yet more evidence to suggest that this sense's grip on the English language is becoming even firmer, since it recently appears to have converted from adjective to verb.

though the most frequent collocates of the verb green are buildings and manufacturing processes, virtually any concept has the potential to be greened

If you green something, especially a building or any other concept or process which has the potential to consume energy, then you make it more environmentally-friendly. As a transitive verb, green therefore refers to the activity of incorporating eco-friendly products and practices into a particular environment, whether it's a person's home, workplace or general lifestyle. The verb green and related process noun greening thus function as super-ordinate terms for the implementation of a variety of ecological measures, such as recycling, energy efficiency, renewable resources, sustainable development and reducing pollution. Though the most frequent collocates of the verb green are buildings and manufacturing processes, virtually any concept has the potential to be greened. In this article entitled 'Greening your baby from head to toe', new Mums can learn how to green their babycare – from laying their child on organic mattresses through to wiping their little bottom with eco-friendly cleaning products.

Background – green and greening

Through sheer frequency of use, the adjective green, in its sense of 'protecting the environment', has given birth to a transitive verb green via a process linguists commonly refer to as conversion. Conversion occurs when a word starts to be used in a different part of speech without the addition of any kind of derivational affix, e.g. walk (verb) > walk (noun, Let's take a walk.), compare walk (verb) > walker (noun). One of the most frequently cited contemporary examples of conversion is the word text, which has converted from noun to verb (I texted him.), but there are many others, such as the recent use of friend as a transitive verb in the social networking domain (He friended her on Facebook.).

The usage described above is not however the first time green has occurred as a verb. There's also a verbal sense of green relating to the growth of grass, trees etc which is used both transitively and intransitively and simply means 'to (make something) become green'.

Returning to the environmental sense of adjectival green, there's also now some evidence for the use of brown as a kind of antonym, typically in the phrase brown energy, which has been coined to describe energy produced from polluting sources.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Birther.

This article was first published on 6th June 2011.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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