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The Lunar Module separated the descent stage and fired the ascent engine to climb back into orbit.

After reading the above sentence I began wondering if forming phrasal verbs using names rather than lexical verbs is commonly accepted; so, in order to describe what the Lunar Module did, one could say "The Lunar Module mooned out."

I know that moon is also a verb, but its meaning has nothing to do with the event I described.

Can anyone explain?

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4 Answers 4

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Inventing new idioms is tricky, and this one has several strikes against it.

  • As kiamlaluno says, phrasal verbs are built on verbs, and moon already has two verbal senses (one transitive and one intransitive), neither of which is incorporated in moon off.

  • Nouns may of course be deployed as verbs, but there needs to be some logic to it. Moon (verb) ought to imply an action somehow characteristic of moon (noun), and that is not the case here. The Moon's only role here is to be departed from.

  • You need the right particle/preposition. Out does imply departure, but from an interior space to an exterior. Up or off would be more appropriate.

Putting these together, I suggest that a likelier candidate would be "The Lunar module offmooned", on the analogy of onboarding. But I don't think it's got legs.

This idiom uttered by a professional on a closed course. Do not attempt at home.

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  • Oh, you just had to include a disclaimer. Now I can't sue you when use of offmooned causes great disaster to strike in my life. ;)
    – WendiKidd
    Aug 7, 2013 at 14:35
  • @WendiKidd I have a nephew who's a high-powered corporate lawyer. He made me do it. Aug 7, 2013 at 15:04
  • A fourth strike against this is the slang meaning of "mooning" as baring one's posterior as a form of insult.
    – BobRodes
    Aug 7, 2013 at 22:05
  • @BobRodes That was the transitive sense I had in mind, which is how I've always heard it - you moon somebody. But ODO says the Brits say "moon at". Aug 7, 2013 at 22:17
  • @StoneyB: to me to "moon at" someone means to stare vacuously at them, especially due to sudden romantic attraction. I always heard it called mooning too. In fact, the first time I heard the term was when a Swindon Town footballer dropped his shorts (briefly, while the ref's back was turned) at the fans in the London Road end during an away game at Oxford United. My father told me that that was called "mooning." Of course, my father is American.
    – BobRodes
    Aug 7, 2013 at 22:49
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Here is my favorite take on the process (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes, 1/25/1993):

Calvin: I like to verb words.
Hobbes: What?
Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when "access" was a thing? Now it's something you do.
Calvin: Verbing weirds language.
Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.

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No, to be used in a phrasal verb, moon must first be used as verb, since a phrasal verb is a verb combined with an adverb or a preposition, not a noun combined with an adverb or a preposition.

The verb and the phrasal verb has different meanings, such as in the case of moon and moon around, but that doesn't mean that in the first case moon is a verb, and in the second case moon is a noun.

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  • kiam, but I found big up on Wiktionary and in Merriam-Webster I do not find "big" defined as a verb, but only as a noun. What can this circumstance be explained?
    – user114
    Aug 7, 2013 at 13:25
  • Big is also a verb.
    – apaderno
    Aug 7, 2013 at 13:37
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    (a) To "big" something is not a commonly accepted or understood verb in English. That's a fairly obscure slang term. (b) In any case, the fact that a noun is used as a verb with a certain meaning does not mean that you can use any noun as a verb with any meaning that occurs to you at the moment. Any more than you can say that because there is a word that means "dog", that you can make up any word you want to refer to any animal you want. Some nouns can be carelessly used as verbs because there is a fairly obvious meaning. For example you can often use the name of an object as a verb ...
    – Jay
    Aug 7, 2013 at 14:00
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    ... meaning "to use this object in the normal way". Like, "to knife" someone is understood to mean "to stab someone with a knife". "To box" a product is understood to mean to put the product in a box and seal it up. Etc. But if I said that I was going "to river" something, what would that mean? To submerge it in the river? To make it float on the river? To transport it by boat on a river? There isn't a single obvious use, so it's not clear. That's why you don't hear "river" used as a verb.
    – Jay
    Aug 7, 2013 at 14:07
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    @Carlo_R., you might investigate whether big as a verb is a simple back-formation from verb embiggen (to make bigger; eg, a small part of the example quote from C.A. Ward's 1884 "New Verbs" article is “... the people magnified them, to make great or embiggen [them]”) or not :) Aug 7, 2013 at 16:22
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It is true that it is fairly common in English to use a noun as a verb. But you can't just use any noun as a verb with any meaning that you want to express at the moment.

In your example, you want to use "moon out" to mean "leave the moon" or "take off from the moon". But the phrase "moon out" is not a phrase that is currently commonly understood in English, either with that meaning or any other meaning. You are trying to invent a new definition of the word "moon".

Of course people invent new words and new definitions of existing words all the time, but (a) you can't expect people to know what you mean when you've just invented a new word; and (b) there are many requirements for a new word to catch on.

In general, if there is already a commonly accepted way to express an idea, and that way is reasonably concise, a new word rarely becomes accepted. Like if I tried to invent a new word that means "run", it is unlikely that people would use it because we already have a short, easy-to-say word with this meaning, namely, "run". On the other hand, when a new machine is invented, we routinely invent a new word or phrase to describe it. For example when cell phones were invented, somebody had to invent the name "cell phone". Otherwise every time we wanted to refer to one of these devices we would have to describe it, and it gets very tedious to say "a telephone that you can carry around and that sends radio signals through towers that connect to the phone network" or some such. And of course different people would describe it in different ways, and some descriptions would be unclear, and a listener would say, "You mean a portable radio?", and then you'd have to clarify, etc. So someone came up with the phrase "cell phone" and it quickly became widely accepted. (Some say "mobile phone", maybe there are other names floating around. I expect that in a few more years one or the other name will die out. Not necessarily, though: "car" and "auto" are still both in use.)

In this case, it's easy and clear to say "left the moon". There just isn't very much need for a new term to describe the idea.

Slang terms are an exception. These are often deliberately unnecessary. For some reason people delight in inventing slang words that mean exactly the same thing as existing formal words. But they are generally limited to some "in group" and using them identifies one as a member of the group. There must be dozens or hundreds of slang words that all basically mean "good" or "bad". There are many slang words for various types of illegal drugs. Etc.

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