Interpreters and Commentators

By Maeve Maddox

Mike Feeney overheard a business owner

repeatedly [mention] that they would be using an “interpretator”

and has asked for a post on

interpreter/interpretator and commenter and commentator

interpreter: one who interprets or explains; one who translates languages.

In current usage, “interpretator” is nonstandard, as is the obsolete verb formation “interpretate.” The OED has an entry for interpretator, but its the most recent documentation is from the 17th century and the word is labeled as “obsolete.” The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary has no entry for it. M-W does have an entry for “interpretate,” which redirects to interpret.

Here are some examples of nonstandard “interpretator”:

I know there is a secretary’s day…Is there an interpretator’s day?

Speaking in Malayalam, through an interpretator, Poulse and his other colleagues said…

 I bet I was the best… hand writing interpretator in the world.

…software, incorporating the only true award interpretator system for Australian conditions since 1991…

Chinese (mandarin) translator/interpretator service provider…

Nonstandard “interpretate” also abounds:

management will read the same contract as you but will interpretate it different[ly].

I’m pretty sure he misinterpretated the study,

Himmler thought that Germany was going to recover because he misinterpretated one of Nostradamus’s predictions.

In November 2005 she interpretated the role Dame at “Dido and Enea” by Purcell

While “interpretator” has no meaning apart from that of the standard word interpreter, commentator and commenter have distinctive meanings.

commentator: A writer of expository comments or critical notes on a literary work; the writer of a commentary; One who reports or comments on current events, esp. on radio or television.

commenter: One who comments

Here are some examples of both words:

Sometimes sports commentators say the strangest things

Alan Watkins, doyen of political commentators, dies at 77

Texas police take on blog commenters

Are Blog Commenters “Real” Writers?

N.C. Judge Unmasks Pseudonymous Blog Commenters

The 6 Types of Blog Commentors–Do You Know Them? (NOTE: The OED gives commentor as an alternate spelling of commenter.)

I see a useful distinction between commentator and commenter, especially in this “everybody’s a writer” culture of ours.

Commentators are qualified to write intelligently about a particular topic, approaching it and analyzing it in terms of a body of knowledge.

Commenters, on the other hand, express opinions on matters about which they may or may not be particularly informed. Many DWT readers bring professional expertise in language to their comments, resulting in useful commentary. In general, however, blog commenters tend to be stronger on opinion than information.

Bottom line: I’d reserve the word commentator for analysts operating from a professionally-informed perspective and writing or speaking in a formal setting. I’d use commenter for people who respond to blog posts.

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9 Responses to “Interpreters and Commentators”

  • ApK

    >>Many DWT readers bring professional expertise in language to their comments, resulting in useful commentary.<<

    (She means me, right? Sure…sure…she must mean me…right?)

  • Kathryn

    APK: (Well, she doesn’t mean me. Commenter, yup, that’s me.)

  • Moira

    I’m a long time reader, first time commenter. 🙂 When I read this item I was reminded of the words oriented and orientated. A colleague always said ‘disorientated’, whereas I would have said ‘disoriented’. I would be interested in your opinions and expertise, as a language commentator! 😉

  • Julie

    From an avowed commenter:

    “(NOTE: The OED gives commentor as an alternate speling of commenter.)”

    Does it give speling as an alternate spelling of spelling? 😉

  • Maeve

    @Julie
    DOH!

  • Kathryn

    OK, I’m probably the only one struggling with this particular gas bubble. . .but every time I see “commentators” I find myself thinking of the scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “These Happy Golden Years” (I’m pretty sure that’s the book where this scene occurs) where Pa Ingalls does a charade involving balancing potatos on an axe. You know. . .Commentators on the Acts?

    Sigh.

    Yup.

    I’m the only one.

  • Frank Elliott

    From the post: “In general, however, blog commenters tend to be stronger on opinion than information.”

    Very choicely worded, Maeve. Tastefully understated, but spot-on.

    As for “interpretate,” well, that’s just silly. If I came across that monstrosity (which I have not) I would assume that the writer’s education is lacking.

  • Writing Student

    Thank you for this post, now I know that in current situation I am commenter, not commentator =) I suggest that “interpretator” is generally used by non-native English speakers, like people whose mother language is some of Slavic languages. They use this word in their language, and translate it to English literally.

  • Maeve

    @ Moira,
    Simon Kewin has written a post on orient vs orientate:

    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/do-you-orient-yourself-or-orientate-yourself/

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