Do ushers ush or do they usher?

It’s a hot day so I’ve opened my window. A wasp just came in, and I guided it cautiously outside using the book that was nearest to hand (Japanese for Busy People). That set me wondering what verb best describes what I had just done.

The verb that immediately came to mind was usher: I ushered the wasp out of the window. But then I wondered whether the verb should be ush: I ushered the wasp out of the window.

These forms are both clearly related to the noun usher. Presumably they both derive from the noun:

  • the verb usher derives by a process known as conversion.
  • the verb ush derives by a process known as back formation.

Conversion

Conversion changes a word from one part of speech (for example, a verb) into another (for example, a noun), but without changing the word’s spoken and written form. An example is converting the noun nanny into the verb nanny (‘work as a nanny’, or ‘behave like a nanny’).

Back formation

Back formation takes a word apparently containing derivational material and removes that material to form a new word that appears, on the face of it, to be the source of the first word. So for ush, back formation:

  • views usher as made up of a root (‘ush’) and suffix (-er), meaningperson who ushes’;and
  • removes the purported suffix –er, leaving the new verb ush.

I’ve often heard and used ush, but to my ear it sounds informal and playful, almost facetious. When people use it, I think they use it self-consciously, thinking of it as not being a ‘real word’.  

History of the noun usher

It seems that the noun usher was not created by word formation within English, but by borrowing from mediaeval French. Various online sources suggest that the noun usher drives from the French huissier, meaning a doorman or bailiff, and ultimately from Latin ostarius (‘doorman’).

The European Parliament has an article explaining the role of its ushers and the origin of the word. The European Parliament’s Ushers https://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?language=en&type=IM-PRESS&reference=20051017FCS01532

A resource on etymology

While I was looking for the history of this word, I came across an interesting site https://etymologeek.com

Conclusion

I had a quick look at some of the main on-line English dictionaries. The ones I looked at all give usher as a verb. Most do not mention ush. One lists ush as slang but I haven’t seen the definition, which is behind a paywall.

I would probably use ush talking casually to family or friends but usher talking to people I don’t know well.

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