fewer than five decades have passed since the word was disparaged by Miss
Meyer, my high-school English teacher. "It's obviously a misguided
back-formation from 'orientation'," she sniffed, "as silly as saying 'reconciliate'."
I'm cool with that. The verb 'orient' has worked for me in every
context for half a century. I never gave 'orientate' a thought --
until just the other day. The word 'reconciliate' appeared in a technical
document, and I flashed back. "How silly," I thought to myself.
Just for fun, I consulted the OneLook
Dictionary Search. Sure enough, there is exactly one worldwide
reference for 'rec•on•cil•i•ate'. Random House Unabridged Dictionary
gives a one word definition, 'reconcile' -- apparently with a straight
face. Ah, but does anybody in the world actually use that
silly word? A quick googling of "reconciliate" turned up 6,000 pages.
That discovery 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'...
adaptate, administrate, admirate, adorate, affirmate,
applicate, authorizate, aviate, cessate, civilizate, classificate, combinate,
commendate, compilate, condemnate, condensate, confirmate, confrontate,
considerate, consoltate, constellate, consternate, constipate, consultate,
continuate, conversate, corporate, declarate, degradate, derivate, desolate,
destinate, determinate, detestate, disputate, documentate, durate, examinate,
exclamate, expectate, experimentate, explanate, explorate, exultate, fermentate,
formate (hah! back-formate), foundate, gratificate, hospitalizate, identificate,
imaginate, implementate, inclinate, indentate, indignate, informate, inspirate,
installate, institutionalizate, interpretate, invitate, invocate,
justificate, lamentate, limitate, machinate, manifestate, materializate,
modificate, naturalizate, observate, occupate, organizate, ornamentating,
ovate, perspirate, perturbate, preparate, presentate, preservate, private,
prolongate, pronunciate, provocate, publicate, qualificate, realizate,
recitate, rectificate, registrate, renunciate, reorganizate, representate,
reputate, respirate, restorate, revelate, salutate, salvate, sanitate,
significate, simplificate, starvate, temptate, transfigurate, transformate,
transportate, tribulate, triturate, verificate, vocate.
Some of the strangest entries appear on non-English websites
(presumably not as back-formations), but readers will find the rest of
these snazzy concoctions already in use as English verbs in thousands of
Lopping off the '-ate' along with the '-ion' gets you
back to the original verb ('orient', 'reconcile') -- usually but not always
(congreg, congratul, delini, desegreg, expostul, investig, legisl, loc,
ov, particip, penetr, popul, retali, segreg, transl, tribul). One
reason is that English appropriated many verbs from other languages by
merely tweaking them with the '-ate' suffix. For example, here is
a collection of French infinitives that became English verbs that you will
recognize. Unlike the verbs in the previous list, each cannot live
without its '-ate.'
abbrevier, abdiquer, accumuler, agglomerer,
agiter, anticiper, apprecier, approprier,capituler, collaborer, commemorer,
confisquer, contaminer, contempler, co-operer, couronner, correler, corroborer,
cultiver, defenestrer, degenerer, deleguer, deliberer, demontrer, dereguler,
deroger, detoner, dicter, discriminer, disseminer, dominer, donner,
durer, eduquer, elaborer, elever, eliminer, emanciper, emuler, evacuer,
exaggerer, exterminer, faciliter, fasciner, federer, generer, germiner,
graviter, halluciner, hesiter, hiberner, humilier, imiter, immigrer, impliquer,
indiquer, innover, inoculer, insinuer, instiguer, interpoler, inonder,
investiguer, isoler, manipuler, mastiquer, mediter, moderer, mutiler, operer,
orienter, precipiter, premediter, proliferer, promulguer, propager, ponctuer,
reciter, reguler, rehabiliter, separer, simuler, speculer, stagner, stipuler,
suffoquer, tolerer, venerer, ventiler, violer.
The back-formationists among us with a penchant for ornamentating
verbs with '-ate' (degradate, orientate, reconciliate) must compete with
forward-formationists, especially the '-ize' enthusiasts (accessorize,
bureaucracize, definitize, finalize, prioritize... zanicize), not to mention
advocates for '-ify' (amplify, beautify, codify, deify,... zombify).
All right then, what about 'orientate'? At least
15 dictionaries have solemn entries that define 'orientate' as an alternative
for 'orient'. Fastenate your seatbelt: The verb 'orientate' appears
on the web at more than 1,600,000 sites. The previous sentence does
with an exclamation point, but the next one does. The very
first google-hit could well have been written by Miss Meyer!
Orient or Orientate?
The word orient as a noun means "east." It may be capitalized
when referring to the geographical location of the Far East.
Example: Hong Kong is located in the Orient.
Orient as a verb means to "find direction" or "give direction."
The noun form of this kind of orienting is orientation. Sometimes people
in their speech will form an imagined verb from orientation and say orientate.
There is no such word as orientate. The correct word is the verb orient.
Incorrect: Melanie is helping me get orientated
to the new job.
Correct: Melanie is helping me get oriented to the new
Which makes me wonder if Miss Meyer's first name might
have been Melanie.