"He . . . stood for a moment,
exactly in the light of his knowledge"
-- John le Carré
orientate v.t. orient
To place or turn toward the east; to
cause to assume an easterly
direction, or to veer eastward.
To arrange in order; to dispose or
place (a body) so as to
show its relation to other bodies, or the relation
of its parts among themselves.
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
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 beginningof
effort to identify every potential "misguided
back-formation" -- verbs
that might have been derived from English nouns ending
Some of the strangest entries appear on
(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,
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.'
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
bureaucracize, definitize, finalize, prioritize...
zanicize), not to mention
advocates for '-ify' (amplify, beautify, codify,
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
on the web at more than 1,600,000 sites. The
previous sentence does
with an exclamation point, but the next one does.
google-hit could well have been written by Miss
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.
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.