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Transitionalising the bar

I have been losing sleep over the word ‘transit’.

It really worries me that ‘transit’ at some stage in the long history of the world became a verb. It simply doesn’t sound like a verb. ‘Edit’ sounds possibly like a verb, ‘remit’, ‘credit’, ‘inhibit’, cohabit and so on, there’s a good-sized family of -it verb endings in English, but there is something peculiar about ‘transit’.

It’s clumsy to conjugate: ‘I transit, you transit, he/she transits…’

All our verbs ending in ‘-it’ seem to have had their proper endings chopped off. When you think about French, most of the verbs end in -er, -ir or -re, and this is consistent with their Latin derivations. English verbs seem to have arbitrary endings, so that on their own they are not always recognisable as verbs.

‘Transit’ comes from the Latin ‘transire’, meaning to cross, as in the sense of movement from one side to another. The root word is the preposition ‘trans’, meaning ‘across’. ‘Transit’ in Latin is the third person singular of the present tense of the verb, meaning ‘he, she or it crosses… something (there has to be an object to cross!)’. So ‘transit’ is not logically the form we would use as a transitive verb, it is first and foremost an English noun. You couldn’t say in Latin ‘ego transit’, the first person singular of ‘transire’ in the present tense being ‘transeo’.

We speak of a parcel or a passenger being ‘in transit’, or the ‘rapid transit authority’ that transports you from a to b. It is perhaps a special usage in the transportation industry. We hear of ‘the transit of Venus’ as an astronomical phenomenon, when Venus is observed crossing the face of the sun. Less often, we talk of something ‘transiting’ from one side to another across a given space. But we would rarely tell our husbands on the phone: ‘I am just transiting the high street now’, when we have the perfectly sensible ‘crossing’ at our service.

Or wouldn’t we? It sounds absolutely like something a policeman would say!

From ‘transit’ there is also a descendant noun with a slightly devolved meaning, ‘transition’ – the process of being in transit from one state or place to another. The good Dr Jekyll makes a ‘transition’ to the evil Mr Hyde. The actor makes a ‘transition’ from stage to film. A transvestite makes a ‘transition’ between the male image and the female.

The implication of ‘transition’ is more that of an ongoing change of place or state, than of an actual physical movement between two states or places. And it requires an auxiliary verb: you ‘make’ the transition.

More horrifying, therefore, is the new usage of ‘transition’ as an intransitive verb! Our American cousins have started to say things like: ‘He is transitioning to his new job’, or ‘the war is transitioning to a state of highest threat’; meaning, I suppose, that something or someone is changing from one place or state to another.

The idea of ‘crossing’ a space, in the prepositional sense, has become lost; while those similar friends, ‘transport’ and ‘transform’ (even ‘change’ and ‘affect’) are left on the shelf.

I hope then that I never live to see or hear the logical transitive form of ‘transition’: ‘transitionise’, meaning to put someone or something into a state of transition. For, one can easily see the development of this, yet a third-stage verbal development of ‘transit’: ‘I transitionise, you transitionise, he/she transitionises….’  ‘I’m sorry, Miss Jones, but we are transitionising you to another department…’

Worse yet, a verb developed from the adjectival form, ‘transitionalise’ (to imply putting someone or something into an interim state of change): ‘Bashar was completely transitionalised by a radical preacher…’; ‘We are transitionalising the situation….’ ‘This service will halt at New Street to enable passengers to transitionalise to Platform 4…’

It’s ghastly, I know. But there is a precedent. I have in the past been accused and found guilty of…….



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