Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Affectation, something affectated

Further to words that develop an added ‘-ate’, as in ‘commentate’ and ‘orientate’.

This morning on BBC Radio4 the playwright Alex Bulmer used the word ‘oriented’ and then corrected herself to say ‘orientated’, excusing herself by saying that the shorter word was Canadian usage. A contributor to this blog (Ms. Dig) raised the awful prospect of the word ‘registrate’, and ‘conversate' was brought to Twitter by Janet Byron Anderson on 12 Jan 2012: ‘Back-formed vb "conversate" (meaning converse) -- definitely "low" register. Not used by educated speakers.’ 

What ‘registrate’, 'orientate’, ‘commentate’, and probably ‘conversate’ share, in my mind, is an idea that in the user’s view the simpler form is too simple, deceptively simple. Anyone can ‘comment’ on something, but ‘commentating’ requires some setting up of systems and controls, qualifications and experience. ‘Commenting’ on a cricket match may take a few seconds; ‘commentating’ may take five days. ‘Orienting’ yourself maybe involves no more than knowing which way you are facing, while ‘orientating’ yourself implies a complex set of geographic and cultural and maybe personal relations with the world. ‘Strangling’ is very different from ‘strangulating’. By virtue of its being more complex, the ‘-ate’ form sounds more deliberate, more arranged, less spontaneous, and thus more official. The addition of ‘–ate’ in ‘conversate’ may be an attempt to sound more formal and educated.

Does it work? If someone near me on the Tube ‘perspirates’ am I more likely to sympathise and offer to call a doctor rather than discreetly moving to a distance? Am I more likely to talk about a lion ‘predating’, and a hyena ‘preying’? Clearly some of the ‘added –ate’ forms have been embraced, while some which are on their way in, even possibly ‘conversate’, are horribly jarring today, and part of the language tomorrow. But during that process ‘foundate’, ‘affirmate’, ‘limitate’, and ‘reservate’ fortunately still provoke spellcheck’s wiggly line, and thus can still be regarded as linguistic affectations (things which you affectate). 

Ultimately I wonder if this doesn’t come down to the familiar pattern whereby if you want to make something sound more formal and imply a structure behind it you add a bit more Latin to it; that is, you make it more Latinate. 

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