Is That Even a Word?

By Mark Nichol

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No authoritarian authority exists that determines whether a given word is valid or bogus. In any language, there’s a complex and imperfect vetting procedure; at least in English, most serious writers agree on the correct or preferred form of a word that is one of two or more variants or on whether a word is acceptable at all. Here’s a list of words that have been under scrutiny in this approval process:

1. Administrate: A back-formation of administration and an unnecessary extension of administer

2. Commentate: A back-formation of commentator and an unnecessary extension of comment

3. Dimunition: Erroneous; the correct form is diminution (think of diminutive)

4. Exploitive: A younger, acceptable variant of exploitative

5. Firstly: As with secondly and thirdly, erroneous when enumerating points; use first and so on

6. Heighth: Rarely appears in print, but a frequent error in spoken discourse (Why isn’t height modeled on the form of depth, length, and width? Because it doesn’t shift in spelling and pronunciation from its associated term, tall, like the others, which are derived from deep, long, and wide, do. Neither do we say or write weighth.)

7. Irregardless: An unnecessary extension of regardless on the analogy of irrespective but ignoring that regardless, though it is not an antonym of regard, already has an antonymic affix

8. Miniscule: A common variant of minuscule, but widely considered erroneous

9. Orientate: A back-formation of orientation and an unnecessary extension of orient

10. Participator: Erroneous; the correct form is participant

11. Preventative: A common and acceptable variant of preventive

12. Societal: A variant of social with a distinct connotation (for example, “social occasion,” but “societal trends”)

13. Supposably: An erroneous variant of supposedly

14. ’Til: Also rendered til and till, an clipped form of until that is correct but informal English; use the full word except in colloquial usage

15. Undoubtably: An erroneous variant of undoubtedly

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57 Responses to “Is That Even a Word?”

  • Mark Nichol

    Mary:

    I recommend collegiality in place of (ugh) colleagueship.

  • Mark Nichol

    Wet:

    I was, until recently, ignorant of the wondrous word wayfinding — a solution for the problem of a concept that I thought had no one-word label. Thanks for enlightening me!

  • Sally

    As I noted in another post, these usages are often the creations of politicians, celebrities or economists – one doesn’t have to be terribly well-spoken, or well-educated, to be any of these.

    The idea of aligning church doors, and graves, toward the east, whence the sun (the son?)* rises, is paralleled by the fact that, when we die, we are – or were – said to “go west.” During the Cold War, we learned that the big continent in the west was our ‘friend’ and our ‘saviour,’ so now things that no longer function have to imitate the ‘Losses’ on business charts and “go south.”

    ‘Signage’ always reminds me of ‘sewage.’

    ——-

    *Yes, I am making a pun AND a theological point. :O

  • venqax

    Mary, given the context I’d offer collegeassity, but proper vetting would probably reject it as uselessly broad.

  • Janet

    Bob, you and my husband may have some common ancestry. His father mockingly used “undisirregardless”, too!

    Sad to say, irregardless may have made its way into standard English…

  • Kayfra

    Sherbert, my fav. As to functionality being acceptable,thebluebird11defends prejudicially(a word?). What’s wrong with saying functions poorly or well. Your reasoning fits all the -ality and -ability made-up words. Sorry, they all sound somewhere between foolish and high-falutin’.

  • Lindsay

    And ‘literally’ has been so exploited for so long, the only dignified thing it can do is retire. Shame. A good word, she was.

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