HB reader Barbara asks, “Is conversate a word? I am a nurse and see other nurses using it in their progress notes. Example: ‘The resident was seen conversating with her room mate.’
Thanks Barbara. That is a good question. In English verbs, nouns, and adjectives can be formed with the —ate suffix, e.g., the verb “to perambulate” (to walk about) or the noun “licentiate” Here is a list of existing English words with the —ate suffix. It’s a borrowed suffix from Latin. English is heavily Latinate.
Because so many words are formed using the —ate suffix it is a natural impulse to use it. Further, Americans have a tendency to add superfluous prefixes and suffixes for emphasis. We also seem to have a facility for creating new words (neologisms). Sometimes this works out well. I like the new word hangry, which means to be so hungry as to become angry. There is not an obvious word in the language that performs the same function in the same way.
Other words, however, are unnecessary. Conversate is such a word. We already have the word to converse. That is the word wanted by the nurses for their progress notes: “The resident was seen conversing with her room-mate.” The verb to converse means to talk with another or “to engage in conversation” (Oxford American Dictionary). It does everything that the neologism conversate does without the unpleasant side effects of making others shudder.
Let’s also clear up the confusion that reigns in sports-talk radio and television between prideful and proud. When a team is losing a large margin but they continue to compete they do so because they are proud or because they are proud of their school or they have a proud tradition not because they are necessarily prideful. The adjective proud refers to a deep feeling of satisfaction or pleasure based upon achievement (Oxford American Dictionary). The Nebraska Cornhusker football team has a proud history. It was one of the most successful American college football teams from the 1890s until the outbreak of World War II. Decimated by the draft, the team fell on hard times for two decades until the hiring of Bob Devaney in 1961. From that point until 2001 the team won five national championships and produced three Heisman Trophy winners, several Outland Trophy winners and many All-Americans. Cornhusker fans are justifiably proud of that tradition.
Prideful, though related to pride and proud, has, however, a different meaning. To be prideful is a vice. It only means “to have excessive self-esteem” (Oxford American Dictionary). To be sure, the adjective proud can also have this sense. James 4:6 paraphrases Proverbs 3:34 (LXX), “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (ESV). In this case, the substantive adjective (i.e., an adjective used as a noun) has the same sense as prideful.
This is not nitpicking. By freely substituting prideful for proud sports media figures are helping not only to create linguistic confusion but they are unintentionally robbing us of one sense of the word proud and abusing the word prideful.
As always, I understand that language changes but not all changes are good and happy. A flood is a change but it is not usually a good change. That is why we build dikes and levies and fill sand bags. Think of the Grammar Guerrilla as your grammar sandbagger.