I was watching the news on breakfast telly this morning when a wannabe Olympic athlete was interviewed. Why did she want to be a competitor? the journalist asked. ‘I was inspirated by the success of Team GB,’ came the response.
Inspirated?? That’s a new one on me. It sounded like she was describing a breathing problem. It’s a pretty ugly word. Presumably she meant ‘inspired’. Anyway, it’s a neologism. A new word. How things change.
Personally, I will not be helping this particular abomination on its way into common usage, but it got me thinking about how rapidly the English language responds to popular culture and how readily new expressions are absorbed into the vernacular.
The young athlete, probably unconsciously, was using a word produced by back-formation: the process by which a shorter word is created from a longer one. The term was coined in 1897 by James Murray, the founding editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, but I’m so out of touch I’d never heard of it, though I understand the process. I made myself feel better about this lapse when I decided that I may not be aware, but at least I’m still curious.
Anyway, in this case, inspirate is formed by removing the suffix ‘tion’ from ‘inspiration’, but is the new word one we actually need? Similar modern atrocities, sorry, examples, include conversate, from conversation; incent, from incentive; coronate, from coronation.
You can easily figure out that incent means to give an incentive and I suppose it’s slightly better than ‘incentivate’ or its truly horrible bastard twin, ‘incentivise’. But aren’t all of them redundant? What did poor old ‘encourage’ do to fall so badly out of favour? Surprisingly, well to me anyway (I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been living under a stone all these years), the OED first mentioned incent in 1977, so it’s not even a modern incarnation I can moan about.
Coronate already has a meaning – crown-shaped – so confusion will abound if we all start talking about Prince Charles being coronated when he accedes to the throne, if he ever does, poor man.
And don’t even get me started on conversate….. what’s wrong with talking, for God’s sake?
Interestingly, although these words seem to have become acceptable and appear in various dictionaries, none of them are recognised by my spellchecker. Not that I ever need to use a spellchecker, you understand. This is purely in the interests of research….
The morning’s Olympic conversation revealed another worrying trend: that of making verbs from nouns. An interviewee mentioned that athletes were hoping ‘to medal’ and ‘to podium’. Are we really in such a hurry theses days that we have to save time by omitting ‘win’ or ‘reach’?
Conversely, whilst we’re in the realms of make believe, we also have the opportunity to make some of these new arrivals even longer. How about efforting? Time was when we used to try to win a medal. Now we have to be efforting to do so. I’m not sure if there’s a style process to express this, nor should there be. It’s an unnecessary addition to our vocabulary.
And how to describe this phenomenon? To verbalise? No, this already exists in another context. Verbalate??
Give me strength.