Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For the love of God, transition is not a verb!

Posted by John Keller

I apologize in advance for the upcoming rant, but I really have to vent about seeing the word "transition" used as a verb ... or more to the point, to make clear that transition is not a verb; it's a noun -- always has been, always will be.

It's a pity this is one of the things that drives me barking mad, that is, since I work around the defense industry and the Pentagon, where the community just LOVES to fold, spindle, and mutilate the perfectly useful word transition until this noun finally gives up and impersonates a verb.

I just got an e-mail with a subject line that illustrates this travesty: Have You Transitioned to ISO 9001:2008 Yet?

I remember back in the early '80s when Navy aviation was "transitioning" from the A-7 to the F-18 light attack bomber. It's as though no one has heard of the word "switch."

Then again, perhaps a simple, useful word like "switch" is too lowly and modest to describe the switch ... ooops, sorry, the transition ... to something as monumental as a new fighter-bomber, or a new ISO standard.

And so it goes.


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  1. From Dictionary.com

    dictionary results
    tran·si·tion   /trænˈzɪʃən, -ˈsɪʃ-/ Show Spelled[tran-zish-uhn, -sish-] Show IPA
    1. movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change: the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
    2. Music .
    a. a passing from one key to another; modulation.
    b. a brief modulation; a modulation used in passing.
    c. a sudden, unprepared modulation.
    3. a passage from one scene to another by sound effects, music, etc., as in a television program, theatrical production, or the like.
    –verb (used without object)
    4. to make a transition: He had difficulty transitioning from enlisted man to officer.
    Use transition in a Sentence
    See images of transition
    Search transition on the Web


  2. In the relevant usage, 'switch' implies a sudden change between two states whereas 'transition' implies a gradual process. Unfortunately, 'transit' fits the meaning no better, for it connotes a physical journey.

    To illuminate this meaning, consider a light switch. It has two states: open and closed. In contrast, light dimmers (ignoring the additional switch function that most have) provide intermediate ('transitional'!) states between open and closed.

    I hope these shades of meaning turn on a light bulb for the reader and bring his understanding out of the shadows.