‘Nounification’ catches up with Systems Thinking

It seems that certain verbs are becoming nouns, for no particular reason that I can see based in grammar, semantics or the logic of language.  This appears to be a recent phenomena, and in a few cases, nounification has propelled these lucky  innocuous verbs into the noun stratosphere.  The first is the innocent little doer-word ‘reveal’.

make (previously unknown or secret information) known to others.

For a very long time ‘reveal’ has been a simple word of action.  I could choose to reveal my secret loyalties, to reveal my penchant for strong coffee immediately before bed, or reveal my unfashionable taste in movies.  But to reveal such things is no longer de nos jours.  Now, you must do the reveal, or watch the reveal, or witness the reveal.  A ‘reveal’ is an event in time and place.  It is no longer enough to be the agent of revelation… ‘reveal’ is a thing.

Others more erudite in The Empire’s lingua franca have noted this phenomenon of selective nounification, seemingly further defining the reveal as an ultimate or final un-cloaking, one that resolves previously unresolved themes, threads or story-lines.  Thus the reveal is the climax of the story or episode, or the snap-shotting of an actor’s genuine surprise, delight or shock at their, or someone else’s transformation.  Reveal the verb has been replaced by ‘the reveal’ the climax.  So important is reveal that perhaps henceforth it should be capitalised.

In this publication on movies, television, music and art, Reveal is used exactly in this sense, and is single-quoted, suggesting that at the time of publication in 2005, the noun ‘reveal’ was informal, unexpected, or novel.  Now it is everywhere, in architecture, consumer products, perfume and its pièce de résistance, the plastic surgery after-shock.

Most noticeably, the Reveal revels in the current crop of reality husband/wife/bride make-over television offerings. In stylised attempts to capture on video the ‘love at first sight’ moment, producers stretch belief with cliche-laden sets and schlok-ridden dialogue.  Authenticity is sacrificed for the elusive must-see TV moment.  In the hands of brilliant writers such as Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, the Reveal is a sophisticated, clever resolution of a dozen or so intertwined threads, red herrings and all, such that each dangling story-line is completed, such that all roads lead to the now obvious conclusion. Christie’s Poirot knew how to do a Reveal.  So did Hitchcock.  By contrast, today’s Reveals are just a TV-moment, one among a million on any day in any country in the world, its message lost in the triumph of the tele-visual medium over the meaning of its content.

So with nounification having claimed its biggest scalp yet from among the English language’s thousands of verbs, imagine how excited I was to find another of its triumphs in Systems Thinking.  Over at a university west of Sydney, a new masters course is on offer, the Master of Systems Thinking in Practice.  It is syndicated courseware from The Open University. As If the existence of a masters level course in systems thinking wasn’t enough, its byline screams out one too few verbs:

Develop your skills to deal with complex situations where multiple roles need to work together collaboratively for a resolve.

A resolve.  Not a resolution.  A resolve.  Noun trumps verb.  Capitalise it again.  Suspend belief.  Undo 4 decades of preconceptions about the humble ‘resolution’.  So systems thinkers, at least systems thinkers in training, are the new players in the next Big Resolve.  Put like this, the outcome of systems thinking practice seems so binary.  It is either a Resolve, or not.  All that learning about open socio-technical systems, all those debates about wickedness, complexity, systems dynamics, viability, soft boundaries, non-determinism… climax in one little nounified verb.  If only the practice of systems thinking was that simple.


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