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Jun 7, 2004
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with Anu Garg

It appears the verb has been downsized. We've always thought it was indispensable -- try saying anything meaningful without using a verb. But a French writer using the penname of Michel Thaler has done the unthinkable. He's written a 233-page novel Le Train de Nulle Part (The Train From Nowhere) devoid of any verb!

The French have a long tradition of such experiments and wordplay. Writers in the famous group OULIPO (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle: Workshop of Potential Literature) have written entire novels under extreme constraints, for example, without using the letter e. If you think it's easy, try writing a single meaningful paragraph.

While Thaler's feat is commendable, we believe that reports of the verb's demise are greatly exaggerated. Without a verb, that train is getting nowhere. The verbs are all there in the book all right - it's just that they've been given non-speaking roles.

We certainly haven't given up on verbs; on the contrary, we promote them. This week we highlight five unusual verbs, words that bring sentences to life.


Pronunciation RealAudio

(uh-MURS) verb tr.

1. To punish by a fine.
2. To punish by imposing a penalty in an arbitrary manner.

[From Middle English amercy, from Anglo-French amercier (to fine), from Old French a merci (at one's mercy), from Latin merces (wages). Other words derived from the same root are commerce, mercenary, market, merchant, and mercy.]

"Uncouth though he was, (Geoffroi) le Brun was at least more sophisticated an operator than some of his neighbours. Most of them simply mulcted, amerced, plundered, ravaged, and otherwise terrified their trembling feudal subordinates. Le Brun, advised by a monk skilled in public relations, proceeded more cautiously. He wrote them long letters explaining why what he did was entirely necessary and in their best interests. Only then did he mulct, amerce, plunder, ravage and otherwise terrify them."
Smallweed; The Guardian (London, UK); Jan 28, 1995.

"But only three in all God's universe
Have heard this word thou hast said, -- Himself, beside
Thee speaking, and me listening! and replied
One of us ... that was God, ... and laid the curse
So darkly on my eyelids, as to amerce
My sight from seeing thee."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Sonnets From the Portuguese; 19th C.

See more usage examples of amerce in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.


If you came and you found a strange man... teaching your kids to punch each other, or trying to sell them all kinds of products, you'd kick him right out of the house, but here you are; you come in and the TV is on, and you don't think twice about it. -Jerome Singer, psychology professor

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