Friday, April 09, 2004

Can You Task Someone with Hardening a Target?

I heard some of Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the Sept. 11th commission on the radio yesterday, and heard her and her questioners use task again and again as a verb, as in:

(1) to task someone to do some job
(2) to task someone with doing some job
(3) to task some job to someone

I hadn’t realized task could be used this way, but I did two Google searches, and found about 9300 hits for the string “tasked * with”, and about 8400 hits for the string “tasked * to”. During a cursory check of some of the results pages for “tasked * to”, all the relevant hits I saw were examples following the pattern in (2), none following (3). I don’t know if that’s because that usage really is less common than the one in (2), or just because examples following this pattern tend to have more than one word between tasked and to. I did find 9 examples, though, when I searched for the string “tasked the job of”, most in passive sentences such as I was tasked the job of ….

The other usage that struck me was from Rice’s opening statement, which contained the phrase harden terrorist targets. I’ve been familiar with the phrase hard target since I saw the 1993 Jean-Claude van Damme movie of that name. I’m also well familiar with the verb harden, meaning “to make or become stiff or inflexible” (in a literal or figurative sense). But this is the first time I’ve heard harden used to mean “to make or become more difficult”. I didn’t try a Google search on harden, since I hesitate to think of the kind of websites I’ll get directed to with that keyword. But I did try it on the Linguists Search Engine, requiring that it be used as a transitive verb, and didn’t find any other instances of hardening targets, games, or tests. Have any of you readers heard harden used in this way?

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