Some people orient and some people orientate

Oct 6, 2013

The word orient was back-formed from the word orientate. But do these phrases mean the same thing?

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan Professor of English Anne Curzan discuss the difference between orient and orientate, and other back-formed words.

The difference is more than whether the speaker is American or British.

“For me orient is about direction, I’m orienting myself as to whether I’m facing north or south,” Curzan explains.

“I hear orientate on campus. If I orientate someone, I’m getting them used to campus and telling them how to get things done there.”

How about comment and commentate? “To comment is to make a remark. To commentate is more of a job, or to make running commentary,” Curzan says.

Conversate is another back-formed word found in The American Heritage Dictionary. Conversate is listed as a non-standard synonym for converse. However, Curzan believes this definition is too formal, and that conversate is a casual way to describe having a conversation.

Have you conversated about any confusing word usages? Let us know by writing on our Facebook page or commenting on our website.

Clare Toeniskoetter, Michigan Radio Newsroom