In linguistics, the term conversion is the formation of a new word that is a part of speech different from its exact copy (i.e., the original word). In other words, a later definition and use of a word is derived from its earlier definition and use—but its form stays the same.
Morphology is the study of the form of things. In biology, morphology is the study of organisms’ structures and how they function. In linguistics, morphology is the study of the formation of words and their structures (e.g., prefixes, suffixes, and roots). As a morphological device, conversion is the use of a word’s unchanged structure to create a new word with a related meaning that is used as a different part of speech.
For example, in the days before text messaging, the word text was (and still is) used primarily as a noun referring to printed material (e.g., books, etc.) and words (as opposed to illustrations). When analyzing a poem, a person closely examines the piece’s text (e.g., words, diction). Today, however, text is often used as a verb, as in “Can you text me the information?” and “I can’t believe I texted them that photo!” The word text still can act as a noun (“Please send me a text”), but it also can act as an adjective or modifier (“That text message you sent was hilarious!”).
Conversion often is gradual and results in colloquial language or slang. For many years, the word ask was frequently used as a verb; it still is today, but it also can be used as a noun to mean “a request.” People might use it to emphasize a request is onerous and often unwelcome, as in “You want a raise? That is a big ask!”
Another verb often used as a noun is fail. A person may say “fail” to mean “failure” in casual situations and to describe especially laughable mistakes (“Our prank flopped—what an epic fail!”). A third example of a verb transformed into a noun is reveal. Instead of using the word revelation, people nowadays like to say “the reveal” or even “the big reveal.” Social gatherings where expectant parents disclose the sex of their future baby are known as “gender-reveal parties” or simply “gender reveals.”
Conversion also describes nouns that are used as verbs. For many years, the primary meaning of the noun ghost has been an apparition of a dead person. Less frequently, the word ghost is used as a verb meaning “to ghostwrite” or “to glide.” More often today, the term ghost means to cut off contact and disappear, as in “I never heard anything—no calls, no texts—from him again after a few dates; he ghosted me.”
A second example is the word architect. Most people know this term as a noun describing a person who designs buildings or computer programs/IT systems. However, in her book Women Who Work, Ivanka Trump uses the word as a verb (“women benefit immeasurably by architecting their lives in a way that honors and supports their relationships and pursuits outside of work”).
Be careful when using new words formed by conversion; utilizing these verb-as-noun and noun-as-verb morphological devices can make you appear too casual, trendy, sloppy, and/or pretentious.