Monday, June 12, 2006

Next: Opinionation

I learn second (or some subsequent) hand that George Bush recently said "all the sharp elbows being thrown and the people opinionating and screaming and hollering." Pundits debate. Jan Freeman at the Boston Globe asks "Is it legit?" In response to her own question, she says:
And 400 years ago, opinionate was standard English, though writers in need of a verb meaning "believe, express an opinion about" could also choose opine or opinion. "Pythagoras opinionated [the soul] a Number moving of it selfe," says a 1643 tract cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. Opine has since pulled far ahead in the popularity contest, but that doesn't mean opinionate is dead.
Well, whew for that. I thought for a moment there that we might have an illegitimate verb, and that would mean that ... uh ... well ... Well, someone's going to have to tell the President.

This kind of thing has a tendency to annoy those in the "we already have a word for that" school, which would hold that ipso facto the new word is illegitimate. As Freeman notes, the already-have word is opine. However, she comes to the defense of the "new" word by noting that it has a subtle distinction from opine; she notes the analogy of the subtle distinction between comment (what you and I do) and commentate (what people do who are paid to comment).

But words don't need to be justified by the lexirati to be "legit." Whether opinionate means exactly the same thing as opine or not, it's out there. One thing that Freeman does not mention is that opine is a stuffy word and probably not used much by ordinary speakers. And why should it be? The relationship between opinion and opine is hardly obvious, certainly nowhere near as obvious as the relationship between opinion and opinionate. It's not inconceivable that opinionate could even replace opine someday, and the latter could come to be seen as an archaic term. (Current Google count for opine: 5.2 million; for opinionate, a paltry 48,000.)

Extending nouns to verb them is a common enough occurence; we recently saw executionalize. And although the -ate suffix seems to really bug some people, it's a, you know, legitimate way to form new verbs. (hyphenate, disambiguate, etc.) When I was in the U.K., I picked up to orientate as a pretty common variant on to orient. I use it now and then, mostly for my own amusement, seeing as how it often gets a rise out of people. I did that the other day, and sure enough someone cringed. I could not convince them that it was a common usage in Britain.

Paul Niquette devotes a page to the topic of orient and orientate and, as he says, "marked the beginning of a personal effort to identify every potential 'misguided back-formation' -- verbs that might have been derived from English nouns ending in '-ation'..." And boy howdy, he does come up with quite a list: adaptate, administrate, admirate, adorate, ...

For laffs, we could ponder -- that is, we could opine -- on what other new verbs we might see some day:

evaluationate (Heh, wouldn't that be hilarious?)


Anonymous said...

Interesting comment about orientate being common usage in the UK. I used to cringe when I heard it in the Army during orienteering activities- we were to orientate ourselves facing north. Another -ate Army-ism was "interpretate", which is what an interpretor does, naturally.

Thomas McAllister said...

One of the extenuating cirumstances that seems to favor opinionate is the prior existence of the adjective opinionated--a form that other comparable verbs, such as orientate, lack. (At least, I've never heard orientated in place of oriented, and though it has probably been uttered before, it's not a standard or established usage as opinionated is.) Just a thought.

One incidental note: do you have any information about how 'opinionated' developed? I haven't looked into it myself, but I'd guess it arose as a past-participle adjective back when 'opinionate' was originally in common use.

WordzGuy said...

"opinionated" sure does go back a long time. From what I see in the OED, one sense was simply "having an opinion": "Being perswaded and firmly opinionated, that this sight was a traunce in loue." (1592) This aligns right with "to opinionate" as noted in the original note. "Opinionatedness" (the quality of being opinionated) shows up in 1662.

In the sense of "having stubbornly held opinions", the word goes back at least to 1630, per the OED.

Curiously, the OED lists a specifically American usage of simply "holding firm opinions", and traces it back only as far as 1961.

Brendan said...

Another candidate in this vein: administrate.

I always liked to add on to the old saw, "Those who can't do, teach," by saying, "and those who can't teach, administrate."

Somehow, "administer" didn't sound as good.

When my father heard this, however, he remonstrated me.