New words for old

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.

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13 thoughts on “New words for old

  1. I am guilty of verbing my nouns in speech, though I don’t slip it into my writiing unless it serves a humorous purpose. But “efforting”? That one’s just plain ugly. 🙂

    • But at least you can see the difference and use it knowingly and to your advantage. It makes me worry for the future of our language when people mess around with it without this etymological background. Maybe I just worry too much anyway.

  2. I blame today’s examples on the business world. It loves to create (creativate?) such beasts to sound cutting-edge and “relevant” to clients and competitors. But I suspect this has happened in the distant past with English and we don’t recognize some of our words for what they were.

    “Orientate” is one that has always been nails on a chalkboard for me….

  3. Between text speak, ‘clever’ advertising spellings, nouns masquerading as verbs, verbs being used as adjectives, ‘-ize’ going on the end of just about everything, we won’t understand anyone soon. Or will we?
    My newly purchased book is the Entymologicon – quite amusing – but also interesting to discover where our words come from, where they began and even who invented them. Shakespeare and Milton mostly it would seem.
    I can be the world’s greatest pedant on this, tutting my way through the news (even the Beeb is guilty of some crass examples), but language is rich, changing daily. In some ways that is a good thing.
    Now the use of the apostrophe – different matter!

    • Don’t get me started on apostrophes. I’ve posted before about misused punctuation, particularly these little fellas – they are so important. Other language fads develop and drop away, as does our vocabulary, but apostrophes must maintain their place. 🙂

      • I have a secret wish regarding apostrophes. It has come upon me only recently and it is a bit of a confession. After many years of near apoplexy on the subject, I wish people would use them correctly, but if they can’t – sorry about this – I wish they would leave them out altogether.
        Greengrocers seem to be the most guilty of doing daft things with them. For the life of me I cannot understand why they know the plural of tomato is tomatoes, yet they think the plural of lemon is lemon’s. EEEEEK!

  4. While there are many words that technically are not words, in which I would love to remove from any and all dictionaries, there are still many words that deserve attention, by the literate who know how to use them.

    A week or so ago, I found the not-so-word word ‘flied’ in a news article. It made me question the writer. Then, I had to question the editor for not catching the mistake. Then, above all else, I couldn’t see why the media giant would publish something like that in an article. Among the articles, it’s very interesting to see the ‘English’ that they use. There’s no wonder at all why others find it amusing to make up their own words, or version of a word, when even the most famous of the famous are able to do it whenever they choose.

    • I’ve always thought the language of the press was slightly different to what is normally considered proper English because of the space and word count constraints they’re under. But maybe all those ‘mistakes’ I put down to bad proof-reading or typos are actually intentional. Scary thought..

      • Even still, they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they want when everyone else is made to follow the rules that have clearly been defined. There were many comments on that article about the concern of the word having made it to print, even if only on the internet.

        I agree; it is rather scary.

  5. Oh, this irks me, too. Sometimes, I feel like the words stem from laziness, apathy, or ignorance and we let them go out of laziness, apathy, or ignorance, and suddenly a new word is born.

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