Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Just as John Keats observed when he first read Chapman’s translation of Homer, so we are witnessing a new verb swim into our ken: ‘to empty-chair’. The reference is to the proposal by broadcasters to place an empty chair on the platform if the prime minister refuses to take part in a TV debate with other party leaders.
Some writers are putting the phrase in quotes. That won’t last. There is not yet agreement on whether it has a hyphen, I trust that it will always have a hyphen, otherwise ‘to empty-chair’ is a split infinitive.
Nouns as verbs
I greatly dislike the use of nouns as verbs: to scapegoat, to access, to critique, to green-light, for example, but I know that I too use many nouns as verbs without thinking about it—to blog, to hoover, to google. Some jar more than others—there, I’ve done it again.
As Ludwig Wittgenstein said, ‘the meaning of a word is its use’. And so ‘to empty-chair’ enters the lexicon.