A verb for the act providing open access
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #144
April 2, 2010
by Peter Suber
I'm not sure what I expected when I called for a verb to replace "to provide OA to" last month. 

I think I'd have guessed that 5-10 people might send 5-10 ideas.  In fact, 51 people sent 170 ideas.  Thanks to all who wrote in.  Thanks for your ideas and thanks for having fun with this.

I really do want a better verb to use in my own writing than the dry and awkward phrase "to provide OA to".  Once I decided to take my appeal public, I thought I might as well set the bar high.  My dream verb would be short, sweet, unambiguous, and at least somewhat self-explanatory.  It wouldn't be sound like insider jargon or make OA sound esoteric, technical, or difficult.  I didn't know whether my dream verb might be out there, waiting for adoption, but I wanted enlist a bunch of creative people to help explore the territory.

The thought crossed my mind that no single word could meet all my criteria.  It appeared that any contender would face a dilemma.  If the word already existed, then it would already carry a meaning, and probably more than one.  Since no single word already means "to provide OA to" --let alone that and nothing else--, then it would have to be ambiguous.  But if the word didn't already exist, then it would be unfamiliar, at least at first, and sound like insider jargon. 

But I knew that sometimes an elegant coinage could pass through the horns of the dilemma.  A few examples are "debug" (verb), "online" (adjective), and "software" (noun).  As new coinages, they didn't carry the freight of older meanings; and as apt and suggestive coinages, they didn't carry an insider odor or they quickly lost it.  I also knew that familiar words could take on new meanings without confusing ambiguity, for example "crash" and "flame" (verbs) and "bit" and "hardware" (nouns).  I knew that older words could be revived and retargeted and still remain comfortably familiar and unambiguous, for example "avatar" (noun). 

The reader nominations fell into five categories: 

1. Existing verbs

For example:  disseminate, free, open, post, unbound, uncork, and unlock.  (The examples I list here are actual nominations.)  The advantage of using an existing verb is its familiarity.  The disadvantage is that the new meaning must coexist, perhaps ambiguously, with the existing meaning.  We may not speak of "uncorking" TA literature, but we do speak of "disseminating" TA literature.

2. Existing nouns or adjectives used as verbs

For example:  common (as a verb), gift (as a verb), open-access or OA (as verbs), public or publick (as verbs), and suber (not my idea!).  Like existing verbs, these words are familiar, at least as nouns and adjectives.  Their unfamiliarity as verbs is two-edged:  it helps them avoid ambiguity, but it also burdens them with the awkwardness of verbification.  However, if we're starting to accept talk about "open-sourcing" a software project, as several readers pointed out, then we could start to accept talk about "open-accessing" an article, journal, or book.

3. Rare or obsolete verbs revived and repurposed

For example:  beteem, exburse, expone, manumit, and ope.  (Look them up!)  Because these words already exist, they might be familiar; and because they're rare, they might be unambiguous in their new roles.  The risk is that they might reverse this.  Insofar as they're rare, they'll be unfamiliar, and insofar as they're familiar, they might be ambiguous.

4. New variations on existing verbs

For example:  commonize, defetter, enopen, freeline, freeport, freeshare, oapen, opaccess, and openize.  These variations can always be unambiguous.  When they succeed, they're familiar enough to be comfortable; and when they don't, they can be unfamiliar and awkward. 

5. New coinages

For example:  abra, apertize, ceecee, exorn, oacce, oclone, and oplish.  As new coinages, these words can be completely unambiguous.  The question is how far their use of familiar roots or allusions makes them comfortable and somewhat self-explanatory.

Last month I criticized a few possibilities in advance.  I thought "open" would be ambiguous.  ("We already say 'open the journal and 'open the book' with another meaning in mind.")  But that didn't stop three readers from suggesting "open".  And I'm glad they did.  Dave Puplett, David Solomon, and Tom Wilson made a good case that "open" can usefully serve this role, despite the ambiguity, and that context can usually make the intended meaning clear. 

I criticized "liberate" for being "a little ambiguous, a little precious, and suggest[ing] an overcoming of resistance which is by no means intrinsic to OA."  But three readers didn't share my objections and put it forward anyway.

I also criticized "openize" and "accessibilitate" for being ugly.  But one reader didn't share my objection to "openize".  Another, while steering clear of "accessibilitate", nominated "accessorize" and "accessitate".

In case we needed it, this is evidence that we don't share the same criteria, adding to the difficulty of finding a word that might gain wide acceptance.

Bottom line:  I didn't find my dream verb.  But I did find several that I already use.  I found several that I can imagine using when the context makes the meaning clear.  And I found several that I can imagine becoming less ambiguous and more familiar, and hence more acceptable, after some uptake and circulation.

For example, here some of the nominated terms that I find I already use on occasion:

* "Open" and "open up" (Dave Puplett, David Solomon, Tom Wilson)

Tom Wilson:  "I suggest that simply using 'open' will do fine:  e.g., 'Cambridge UP has announced that it will open the Journal of Fuzzy Thinking...' or 'Elsevier will open 40% of its journals...'  It is short, sweet, to the point and probably uses many fewer letters than any reasonable alternative."  Dave Puplett:  "I agree that it's best not to look too far afield for the right word. We have it already - 'open' is the most important part of 'open access' anyway.  I'm sure you'll get more detailed suggestions, but just this word alone carries enough weight now I think, and would make perfect sense in every context relating to disseminating research."  Douglas Carnall:  " 'open up' is probably the most colloquial solution." 

* "Post" (Stevan Harnad, Peter Pennefather, Arthur Sale)

Stevan Harnad:  "I think the word for 'providing OA to' already exists, and it's 'post' (as it is now used in the online age)....'Post' also has the virtue of stressing that it is really authors who are providing OA to their work, even if the way they do it is to publish with an OA publisher who posts...it for them."  Peter Pennefather:  "I believe that early newspaper printers use to 'post' runs of their newspapers in the the print shop widows for all to read. The word 'post' refers to placing information in public view."

* "Share" (Graeme Baldwin, Denise Troll Covey, Alexa McCray, Jared Myers, P0lyM0rpH)

Alexa McCray:  "I submit that it is short, sweet, and rather more than less self-explanatory."  Graeme Baldwin:  " 'share'...has the important connotation of no money changing hands."  Denise Troll Covey:  "Share is what academics are supposed to do with their work....Yes, we can share non-OA literature, but the context in which OA advocates will be speaking / writing should make clear our particular meaning."

* "Unbound".  Sue Kriegsman nominated "unbound" and reminded me that I used the related term "unbind" in a 2004 essay --both "unbinding" as an adjective ("an unbinding project") and "unbind" as a verb ("asking a journal to unbind a given article"). 

If some politicians are social liberals and fiscal conservatives, then I suppose I'm an access liberal and diction conservative.  I know that language evolves, and that unacceptable words can become acceptable over time through nothing more complicated than usage and acceptance.  In fact, that's how I defend my use of new terms against diction Neanderthals.  But while I'm an earlier adopter of new software, I'm a late adopter of new words.  I'm still reluctant to use "access" as a verb, even though I've watched it grow in acceptance over the past decade.  I don't think I'll ever use "impact" as a verb, even though it too has grown in acceptance during the same period. 

Another symptom of my diction conservatism:  I didn't use the terms "green OA" and "gold OA" for years after Stevan Harnad introduced them and they began to spread.  I agreed that we needed good, short terms for what these terms now designate, and I agreed that they did the job well, or that they would do the job well once they were widely accepted as doing the job.  But they were not self-explanatory, and I couldn't afford to use terms that readers wouldn't understand.  I knew that I could use them along with definitions, but I preferred to use self-explanatory phrases that didn't need definitions.  However, the terms are now widely understood, and have been for a few years, even if they're also widely misunderstood.  (Unfortunately we can't insist on words that are widely understood but not also widely misunderstood; then we'd have to do without essential terms like "evolution" and "socialism".) 

I departed from my diction conservativism when I introduced "gratis OA" and "libre OA".  But I departed reluctantly and perhaps even late.  There was an urgent need for terms to articulate that distinction, and I felt its urgency almost every day.  I decided that it was more important to fill that need than to let diction conservativism stand in the way.  Even when proposing the terms, I worried that they might not be familiar or self-explanatory and wondered whether that might be turned to advantage.  At the same time I resisted more familiar terms (like "free" for "libre") on the grounds of ambiguity.

The handful of terms above already pass my filter of diction conservatism:  open, open up, post, share, and unbind.  I've used them on occasion and will look for occasions to use them more often, starting in the Roundup section below.  Here's another handful that don't pass my filter of diction conservatism today but that I can imagine passing the filters of writers more ready than I to be early adoptors. 

* "Enopen" (Tony Locke)

* "Freeline" (Grelda Ortiz)

* "Freeport" (Bob Kobres)  (But for now, this reminds Mainers like me of L.L. Bean.)

* "Freeshare" (Matt Hodgkinson, Mark Kriegsman)

* "Open access" or "OA" (as a verb) (Brad Baxter, Jet Cloud, Benjamin Geer, Susan Lafferty, Gabrielle Mackey, Miriam Rigby, Dana Roth, Mark Siegal)

Finally, if you don't trust your own diction filters and want to count votes, 10 terms out of the 170 were nominated by more than one person.  In descending order:

* "Open access" or "OA" as a verb (8 nominations:  Brad Baxter, Jet Cloud, Benjamin Geer, Susan Lafferty, Gabrielle Mackey, Miriam Rigby, Dana Roth, Mark Siegal)

* "Share" (4 nominations as an ordinary word:  Graeme Baldwin, Denise Troll Covey, Alexa McCray, Jared Myers; one nomination as an acronym: P0lyM0rpH; as an acronym it would be "show how academics reposit, or access reposits, education")

* "Disseminate" (5 nominations:  Michael Fayez, Mark Forster, Cherry Gordon, Matt Hodgkinson, Susan Wortman)

* "Liberate" (3 nominations:  Douglas Carnall, Mark Forster, Matt Hodgkinson)

* "Oapen" (3 nominations:  Anne Bindslev, Fumio Iwamura, Kay Vyhnanek)

* "Post" (3 nominations:  Stevan Harnad, Peter Pennefather, Arthur Sale)

* "Open" (2 nominations:  David Solomon, Tom Wilson)

* "Copyleft" (2 nominations:  Mark Forster, Matt Hodgkinson)

* "Free" (2 nominations:  Jörgen Eriksson, Mark Forster)

* "Freeshare" (2 nominations:  Matt Hodgkinson, Mark Kriegsman)

Of these plural nominations, six are existing verbs (share, disseminate, liberate, post, open, and free), two are existing nouns used as verbs (open access, copyleft), and two are coinages (oapen, freeshare). 

I've posted a summary of the nominations and nominators to the SPARC Open Access Forum for further discussion.  If you have new suggestions, please send them to the forum as well.


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