I saw a commercial featuring a tune I hadn’t heard before. I wish I still hadn’t heard it because it contained the non-word ‘conversate.’
You’ll usually find two sides to a grammar argument. One side argues there’s nothing wrong with a word like conversate because our language “constantly evolves.” The other side argues just as vehemently there’s no such word and will never consider accepting it as such.
Sometimes, you’ll find a third side. That side, maintained by the mediators of the world, seeks to end a fight through compromise.
The compromise I propose with respect to this debate is simple. Yes, conversate is a word; and no, you should never use it.
Yes, our language does evolve. Sometimes we look for new ways to express old feelings. We adjust meanings of words to fit unique circumstances. Occasionally, words that were perfectly clear wind up with new, sometimes opposite meanings.
One example is the word sick. It used to mean unhealthy or disgusting. Those younger folks out there now use the word sick to mean “cool” or “awesome.”
There was a time when terrific meant horrible. Remember the old Christmas song, “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”? It contains this line: “From Atlantic to Pacific, Gee the traffic is terrific!”
On a spring day in April 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt posed for a portrait at his Warm Springs, Georgia, “Little White House.” The ailing president had experienced deteriorating health for some time. He suddenly felt pain in his skull and remarked, “I have a terrific headache.” Witnesses said those were the last words he uttered before dying of a cerebral hemorrage.
Language does evolve.
But sometimes, it’s not about evolution.
When people use the word conversate, they really mean converse. When it comes to having a conversation, the verb form is converse.
One might argue a certain amount of logic exists in making conversate an acceptable word. After all, the verb form of concentration is concentrate.
But to that, someone else could easily respond that the verb form of transportation isn’t “transportate.”
Unfortunately, some have tried to make the verb form of orientation into “orientate.” (Also nonstandard.)
One argument that supports the notion that conversate is, in fact, a word, is one we’ve all heard before: it’s in the dictionary.
Yes, you can find the word in the dictionary.
No one can correctly argue that you can’t find it in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster says the word has been around since 1811.
You may be surprised to know this little annoyance of a word jumped onto the scene that long ago. Somehow, it seems like it only crept into conversations about 20 years ago. (Maybe I was just lucky to have missed it before that.)
As the writer says, you can also find irregardless, another grammatical equivalent of nails scraping down a blackboard in a dictionary.
But dictionaries aren’t style guides. Dictionaries exist to explain what people mean when they use the wrong words.
But dictionaries define words like conversate and irregardless as “nonstandard words.”
Yes, they’re words. But that little nonstandard notation means it’s not the sort of word you should use. It’ll be frowned upon. Call it grammatical snobbery. But the use of nonstandard words can prompt some pretty harsh judgments.
And at the wrong time, like, for instance, a cover letter from a job application, it could shut you out of a good opportunity.
There’s nothing wrong with language evolution. But if it’s going to evolve, let’s at least make sure the evolution actually makes sense!