Does "biographize" exist? No, really.
September 5, 2007 2:13 AM   Subscribe

Does the English language have a one-word verb meaning "to write a biography of someone"? And if so: does anyone use it?

British, American, rare, obscure...if there's anything out there, we - a collection of English teachers in Latvia with only learner's dictionaries in the office - would like to know. We thought that "biographize" might exist, but we'd like some citations and history, if those things are out there.

posted by mdonley to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The O.E.D. has biograph as a verb but it says the usage is rare.
posted by rdr at 2:30 AM on September 5, 2007

The OED lists biograph as a rare transitive verb, "To write or prepare a biography of" with a sample quotation of "It will be..impossible to ‘biograph’ these great men, without, etc."
posted by RichardP at 2:35 AM on September 5, 2007

I think biographize is fine. If a neologism is intelligible, clear, and necessary you can make up any word you like. Seriously. We in linguistics (as in every science, I imagine) do this constantly: phonologize, extrametric, suprasegmental, etc, etc.
posted by mateuslee at 2:36 AM on September 5, 2007

Biograph is also a noun: An animated picture machine for screen projection; a cinematograph.
posted by mateuslee at 2:39 AM on September 5, 2007

OK, maybe from a more theoretical standpoint the question is a bit trickier. Sure the word exists in the sense that people CAN use it. A documentation of a word in a dictionary is not really proof that it exists. Plenty of existant words aren't in dictionaries. You're really asking if people use this word, and the answer seems to be "not really". We prefer "to write a biography".

Usage examples online (from generally reputable sources):

Here's a quote from the poet Robert Bly:

“In this fine book, Kim Stafford doesn't biographize his father, nor turn his poems into psychology. Instead he takes complicated things his father said and bravely offers them to us. As a book written by a son warily loving an enigmatic, elusive father, this is a masterpiece."
posted by mateuslee at 2:49 AM on September 5, 2007

A google book search on 'to biographize' brings up several results, some dating back to the 19th Century.
posted by misteraitch at 2:50 AM on September 5, 2007

why not just say 'write about'? Never use a neologism, or a complex word where a clear, simple one will do.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:24 AM on September 5, 2007

Agree with mateuslee. You could use the word "biographize" and it would be understandable, but it's not common and it sounds clunky to my ears. If I were to start making things into verbs I would make up something more outlandish like "to Boswell someone", because at least that sounds purposeful and not just like a mistake. Also you can "narrate the life of someone".
posted by creasy boy at 3:55 AM on September 5, 2007

seconding happy dave. "to write a biography of" is the clearest way to go, and not too unwieldy.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:23 AM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you must settle on a single word, I'd suggest profile, which — although often associated with a sketch or outline — is standard English, and would be widely understood in a biographical context.
posted by rob511 at 4:27 AM on September 5, 2007

Yes. Profile. Absolutely.
posted by Reggie Digest at 4:37 AM on September 5, 2007

Thirding 'profile'.
posted by equalpants at 4:40 AM on September 5, 2007

From profile, v. in the OED: "3. a. trans. To compose or present a biographical profile of (a person)." All the examples are from American sources though, and I've never heard the usage in the UK.
posted by caek at 5:09 AM on September 5, 2007

As long as we're okay with making up words/usages, it seems that "memoir" as a verb is much less cumbersome than "biographize" ...
posted by jbickers at 5:23 AM on September 5, 2007

I have always heard "to biography" used just fine for this purpose. Unless I move in strange circles, this is a pretty common usage. The OED gives:

biography, v.
trans. To write the life of; to make the subject of a biography. So biographied ppl. a.

Of course there's also an entry for "to biographize", so take your pick:

biographize, v.
trans. To write a biography of. Also intr.
posted by miagaille at 5:40 AM on September 5, 2007

My understanding is that US English tends to -ize quite freely, but that is rare and looks odd to UK English speakers. (Not sure of this specific word, but the general rule which likely includes it)

Something to keep in mind if it matters if your students learn one vs. the other.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 5:44 AM on September 5, 2007

If a reporter reports, and a blogger blogs, then a biographer should biograph. But, both biograph (v.) and biographize just sound wrong and clunky. Used in a sentence, they will make a reader stop and think about the word rather than moving along with the meaning of the sentence. Write a biography, would be my choice.
posted by beagle at 6:10 AM on September 5, 2007

Hm.. profiling seems to evoke too much of a criminal setting to me. Biographize seems like you're just trying too hard. I'd go with some general sense like portray biographically, depict, or recount..
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:07 AM on September 5, 2007

You would really only use "profiled" in the construction "profiled so-and-so in some work". It is a common usage there, but it doesn't stand alone unambiguously.

For instance: "His face beams out of the front covers of glossy magazines: he has been profiled by Time, Newsweek, Men's Vogue, Harper's, New York magazine."

BTW, that's a UK reference, caek.
posted by smackfu at 7:17 AM on September 5, 2007

As long as we're okay with making up words/usages, it seems that "memoir" as a verb is much less cumbersome than "biographize" ...

Google turns up 174 hits for "memoirize", about half of which are misspellings. The remainder seem to talk about writing one's own memoirs.

"Profile" is good, but doesn't it have a connotation of brevity? I was thinking of "chronicle" or "memorialize".
posted by ormondsacker at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2007

I think it's fine to use the verb 'biographize' in this context, as long as the biography doesn't overly embiggen the biographee.
posted by WCityMike at 7:57 AM on September 5, 2007

Bryan A. Garner says this about "Biographee:"

"This neologism is not etymologically correct, in the sense that there is no corresponding verb biograph. Still, it can be a useful word, especially in book reviews.
posted by mattbucher at 8:41 AM on September 5, 2007

posted by speedo at 8:44 AM on September 5, 2007

Those who biographize over-embigenningly are hagiographizing, aren't they?

Also, Bryan A. Garner is wrong, I think both biographer and biographee are fine, though "subject of [a/the] biography" is more usual.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:17 AM on September 5, 2007

I hate it when people verb nouns.
posted by strangeguitars at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2007


"People who verbacize nouns will be violenced."
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:30 AM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Greetings from Riga!

Thanks to everyone for their answers...nice to hear that a) the word exists, and b) neologisms are entirely within the province of the Average Joe, and are used daily, and are mostly perfectly fine.
posted by mdonley at 8:20 AM on September 6, 2007

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