Quote vs. Quotation, Invite vs. Invitation

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One of my college professors insisted that quote is a verb and quotation is a noun and never the twain shall meet. For example, a writer quotes from an author, but the quoted material is a quotation, never “a quote.”

Although I still observe the distinction in my own writing, I have become aware that both the OED and Merriam-Webster recognize the use of quote as a noun.

Most English words ending in -tion have French cognates, for example: information, confirmation, and position. Such words came into English in the Middle Ages from French. In M.E. the ending of these French borrowings was spelled -cioun; later the ending came to be spelled -tion in both languages.

Through the centuries, many -tion words have lost their endings, and more are in the process of doing so.

English words ending in -tion tend to lose the suffix when the first part of the word retains the word’s meaning without it.

Here are some shortened -tion nouns that have become accepted into standard English:
quote from quotation
ID or I.D. from identification
insert from insertion

Here are some that the OED still labels colloquial or slang:
invite from invitation
info from information
admin from administration
prep from preparation
promo from promotion (in the sense of publicity)
ammo from ammunition

NOTE: M-W does not agree with OED on all of the shortened -tion words. For example, while M-W labels the noun invite “chiefly dialectal,” it admits ammo as a standard word. OED does not have an entry for specs with the meaning specifications, but M-W has.

Many speakers cringe when they hear or read invite used as a noun, but the tendency to drop -tion when the rest of the word is sufficiently meaningful without it, is strong in English. I may not like hearing invite used as a noun, but enough speakers use it that way for it to make a comeback. Yes, comeback:

1659   H. L’Estrange Alliance Divine Offices 326   Bishop Cranmer..gives him an earnest invite to England. –OED documentation.

A second tendency with -tion words that I find it difficult to accept with equanimity concerns verbs.

The function of the suffix -tion is to change a verb into a noun: examine/examination, locate/location, converse/conversation, interpret/interpretation.

Some speakers, however, perhaps because they are not familiar with the underlying verb, create a new verb via back formation. For these speakers, orientation become orientate; interpretation becomes interpretate, and conversation becomes conversate.

NOTE: Back-formation is the formation of what looks like a root-word from an already existing word which might be (but is not) a derivative of the former.

Of the words I just listed, orientate has become standard in British English, but it is still regarded as nonstandard in American English. Interpretate does appear in the OED, but it is labelled “rare or obsolete”; the most recent example of its use is dated 1866.

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14 thoughts on “Quote vs. Quotation, Invite vs. Invitation”

  1. Before the creaky fleet tries to sail can we preemptively mark this:

    “orientate has become standard in British English, but it is still regarded as nonstandard in American English.”

    We KNOW that in British it is accepted. Although it IS a backformation no matter how you slice it. We KNOW. But in SAE it it NOT. NOT AT ALL. In American it is no more acceptable than the cited interpretate or conversate. Or reservate or imaginate or confiscatate.

    I do have to comment on how interpretate is “labelled”, though. In SAE the rule, I believe, is that final Ls (at least) are doubled for suffixes only when the final syllable is emphasized: control to controlled, but travel to traveled. So label to labeled, yes?

  2. As to the real point of the post, I think the practice of converting verbs to nouns without the -tion is a very old and common practice, as the example of the ancient invite shows. So quoting it makes it a quote does not seem radical to me. But most of the others, not so much. I would not consider ammo, specs, promo, info, etc., to be “standard” in the sense that they would be appropriate in formal writing. I would still expect those words to be spelled out. Even official US military publications, to my knowledge, write out ammunition and who would have better cause to abbreviate it?

  3. I have problems both as a writer and speaker with people who use both in speaking and texting or writing :
    a. APP for application
    b. DISTRO for a distribution version of a software package/program. This latter I understand has been added to OED, it that right?

  4. Venqax,
    I taught in a girls’ school in London for seven years. One of the exercise formats we used was called “underlining and labelling.” The girls wrote a sentence, underlined a word or phrase, and “labelled” it according to grammatical function. I find it very difficult to spell labeled and labeling with one l.

    I’ll try to do better in future.

  5. @Paul The “word” DISTRO refers to operating systems which are based on Linux, such as Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat etc. It should be used only to refer to this type of.. OS :-).

  6. Those danged Brits! What is it with them and all the extra letters? My theory is that one of those LaboUr govts. nationalized (-ised) the alphabet over there. Or else it’s the letters’ union. Either way, they have not allowed any reductions due to obsoleteness or redundancy. Sort of like keeping elevator operators to push the buttons for you, or coal-shovelers on trains.

  7. In North American English: “transport” ~ verb
    “transportation” ~ noun,
    as in the Department of Transportaton and the Secretary of Transportation, and to the Devil with the “Minister of Transport”.

  8. SAE = Society of Automotive Engineers, as in SAE 20W and SAE 30W motor oil. Please be careful about using abbreviations.

  9. This is a site about Stanadard American English, DAW. So the abbreviation SAE obviously means Standard American English. This isn’t an engineering site or a science site. Would an engineering site refrain from using SAE because it also means Standard American English? Hardly. Please, don’t be silly. Nobody here, but you, would know or care about the Society of Automotive Engineers. It’s called context.

  10. I don’t have much to add, but:
    -Nix on orientate, which is just as bad as interpretate. Things are oriented and interpreted, and you can orient and interpret. Conversate is…well…I have used it a couple of times in a joking way, and I have heard it in song lyrics, specifically rap-type music. I can’t say I’ve actually heard anyone use it in, um, conversation.
    -One of my peeves, which is possibly related to this duplication of syllables or whatever it is, is the word “preventative.” The correct word is preventive. I don’t even want to think about preventation, preventate, or any other bizarre construction or backformation.

    And now for something completely different…does anybody else hear what I hear and get irritated by, e.g., radio commercial announcers who pronounce an S-sound as an SH sound, in the middle of a word? For example, grosheries (groceries) is the latest one I’ve heard. Where did this annoying habit come from and when is it going away?

  11. Yes, bluebird. And the opposite: one of my pet peeves is spe-S-ies when it should be spe-SH-ies. Others though, have mentioned the SH for Ss problem before and I have to admit that I have never noticed except for the couple examples mentioned above. There is a bigger issue (SAE i-SHoo) here, though.

    We receive the rule that TI in a TION or TIOUS or TIA –consonant combination is pronounced like an SH. So station or captious or Martian are staSHon, kapSHus, marSHan. Fine. But then we get a word like negotiate. Leaving aside the beastly (thank you, Elster) negoSeate— we properly get negoSHeate. But where does the EE sound in the third syllable come from? If the TI is busy producing the SH, then the I can’t be doing double duty as an EE too, can it? But if the T alone is SH-ing in such words I don’t think it’s been officially noted on its record. If we are supposed to say negoSHate, with three syllables total, I don’t think anyone has been informed. We have similar problems with the SAE pronunciations of beneficiary and judiciary which have six and five syllables respectively. I don’t use my stress time well, obviously.

  12. @venqax: Well at least I’m not the only one irritated about all that.
    I never thought about the TI issue (yes, IH-shoo) until you mentioned it.
    You can think of the TI as a SHEE sound, with the T and the I pairing up on the same side of the fence. If you follow that logic, all your examples are clearly pronounced as we are accustomed to hearing them.
    However, if you follow the other theory (i.e., the I can only be on one side of the fence at a time, and is either combined with the T for a SH sound, or is NOT combined with the T and stands alone), “negotiate” is the tricky one. The other examples you mentioned can be sort of slurred over; one could pronounce them beh-nih-FISH-eree (5 syllables) and joo-DISH-eree (4 syllables), could one not? Not the ideal solution, grant you that. But that leaves you logically having to pronounce neh-GO-shayt? Not good. I would have to say that in this case, TI has a SHEE sound. Makes no sense, but there you have it.

  13. one could pronounce them beh-nih-FISH-eree (5 syllables) and joo-DISH-eree (4 syllables), could one not?Well— I’m making facial contortions now—I’d hate to do that because it seems so “British”, for lack of a better word, to elide and smoosh like that ignoring orthography to the point of danger. Next thing you know you just have ben-e-fish-ree (4) then be-fish-ree (3) then bef-sree (2) then Chumley. Enunciation (5 syllables) is generally unpopular over there, it seems, and our insistence on it is a noble thing. It keeps our burgs from becoming bras, our berries and aries from being brees and rees, and our waist coats as coats around our waists (or just vests, FCOL).

  14. I got a circular email from a legitimate business advice service asking me to ‘valuate’ aspects of my supposed business. They meant, of course, ‘evaluate’ but that raises a whole nother question!

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