ôô

Is Conversate a Word?

How do oddities such as "conversate" arise? Through back-formations, which are more common than you may realize.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
English has lots of ways to form new words. Does 'conversate' qualify?

Some Back-formations Are More Acceptable in Different Dialects

Also be aware that some back-formed verbs are variants from other dialects. Although “orientate” is often criticized in American English, in British English it is actually preferred over “orient (3).” “Conversate” not only is a word in African-American English, but also has a more specialized meaning than “converse”; it tends to have more connotations of small talk or flirtation. It’s also favored by rappers, as in this line I found in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (4), in a rap about AIDS: “There's no debate, conversate with your mate / And don't wait until it's too late.”

Of course, just because a word is well-accepted in one dialect doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for use in something written for work or school. I should note that even on the Urban Dictionary website (5), “conversate” is ridiculed and condemned. As with all your writing, know what kind of language your audience is expecting, and choose your words accordingly.

This article was written by Neal Whitman, an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar. He blogs at Literal Minded and tweets at @LiteralMinded.

More Examples of Back-formations

  • Automate, a back-formation from "automation"
  • Burgle, a back-formation from "burglar"
  • Choreograph, a back-formation from "choreography"
  • Complicit, a back-formation from "complicity"
  • Curate, a back-formation from "curator"
  • Ditz, a back-formation from "ditzy"
  • Emote, a back-formation from "emotion"
  • Enthuse, a back-formation from "enthusiasm"
  • Eponym, a back-formation from "eponymous"
  • Greed, a back-formation from "greedy"
  • Injure, a back-formation from "injury"
  • Isolate, a back-formation from "isolated"
  • Laze, a back-formation from "lazy"
  • Legislate, a back-formation from "legislation"
  • Liaise, a back-formation from "liaison"
  • Luminesce, a back-formation from "luminescent"
  • Lyse, a back-formation from "lysis"
  • Peeve, a back-formation from "peevish"
  • Remediate, a back-formation from "remediation"
  • Reminisce, a back-formation from "reminiscence"
  • Sanitate, a back-formation from "sanitation"
  • Scavenge, a back-formation from "scavenger"
  • Sleaze, a back-formation from "sleazy"
  • Snoot, a back-formation from "snooty"
  • Statistic, a back-formation from "statistics"
  • Surreal, a back-formation from "surrealism"
  • Surveil, a back-formation from "surveillance"
  • Televise, a back-formation from "television"
  • Tweeze, a back-formation from "tweezers"
  • Upholster, a back-formation from "upholstery" or "upholsterer"
  • Volunteer, a back-formation from "volunteering"
  • Wrinkle, a back-formation from "wrinkled"

References

  1. “Commentate.” Oxford English Dictionary.
  2. Arnold Zwicky. Jan. 23, 2010. “Informate.” Post on Arnold Zwicky’s Blog, http://arnoldzwicky.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/informate/, accessed July 24, 2018.
  3. “Orientate.” Oxford English Dictionary.
  4. Mark Davies. Corpus of Contemporary American English. http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/, accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
  5. “Conversate.” Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=conversate, accessed July 24, 2018. 

 

Pages

You May Also Like...

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.