Whose Language Is It Anyway?

I’ve been having a running conversation with my good neighbor, R, about language, and we often enjoy good-natured sparring sessions between the giggles. Recently, he mentioned that his latest language peeve is the infinitive “to conversate.”

“It’s just wrong!” he declared (in those or similar words). “The right word is converse.

I laughed, thinking about the late Edwin Newman and his classic and curmudgeonly book Strictly Speaking: Will America be the Death of English from the 1970s. Newman, a well-respected news anchor, journalist, and (what might now be considered an oxymoron with the previous two attributes) scholar, had a literary conniption fit over not merely dialectal differences but any change to the English language at all. (At least it was an entertaining read and not an apoplectic disaster.)

I responded (in these or similar words), “It’s slang. It’s dialect. Whatever, it’s a part of the fluidity of language.”

wordsGood neighbor R continues to disagree with me, but that’s his prerogative, and I have no argument with that. He’s focusing on the correctness of the word, while I’m focusing on its usage and communicability. It works for me but not for him. He sees it as an error, while I see it as an addition to our verbal toolbox. That toolbox continues to grow as our ethnically- and culturally-diverse population contributes to it. Like R, I may not embrace all new words or word forms, but that’s a choice every English speaker can make.

I love that the English language is fluid, allowing new words to ooze into common usage and spice up the on-going, never-ending transformation. After all, if language weren’t fluid, we Americans and our British counterparts would be speaking Old English (or from whatever form O.E. evolved). Then again, we may have started out speaking Spanish via our English settlers had Sir Francis Drake not defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 (in which case William Shakespeare may have written Rolando y Juanita or even Mucha Dificultad Sobre Nada).

I appreciate R’s passion about language and his point that “to conversate” is just the wrong word, a bastardization of “to converse.”  I don’t know specifically how “to conversate” was born, but if we step back, consider the infinite, and apply it to the noun to which it is attached – “conversation” – it makes sense in a logical world, following this pattern:

Noun form – Corresponding Infinitive

Graduation – to graduate
Masturbation – to masturbate
Retaliation – to retaliate
Celebration – to celebrate
ergo …
Conversation – to conversate

Sure, sure, sure, I know it’s the “wrong word” according to strict and protective constraints placed on the language by some, but maybe in the grand scheme of things, “conversate” is the correct word. Perhaps English requires its fluidity in order to evolve into a language that isn’t fraught with more exceptions than rules. As a language, English has 1,019,729.6 words (*) and it’s not slowing down. Isn’t that part of the joy of language? Not only does it keep us on our verbal toes, but it gives us something to talk about. And that, in itself, is ginormous.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~


For additional information about “to conversate,” please go to one of my favorite web sites, Dictionary.com.

In case you’re wondering about the word “grammarly,” check this site:
or visit them on Facebook:

For an interesting article about grammar in the workplace and Grammarly.com, please visit:

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s