Trend Watch

Is 'Interpretate' a Word?

An archaic variant of 'interpret'

Lookups for interpretate spiked on March 21, 2017, when Senator John Cornyn of Texas used the word during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch. Since interpretation of the law is the primary question during such hearings, it’s not surprising that the verb meaning “to explain or tell the meaning of”—whatever form it may take—would be used frequently.

Interpretate is a real word, but it is now regarded as an archaic form, and the preferred verb with this meaning is interpret. As with similar controversial words like conversate and orientate, it is criticized as being needlessly long. Since good rhetorical style favors few wasted words, it follows (for many people) that good vocabulary choices should not waste letters.

The histories of these three words show, however, that creating verbs ending in -ate is a venerable English-language tradition: interpretate was first used in the early 1500s, conversate dates back to the early 1800s, and orientate to a few decades later.

Oddly enough, the most recent of these words is the one that has achieved the most respectability: orientate is a standard variant for orient in British English.

A similar debate concerns interpretive and interpretative. In this case, the longer interpretative was long considered the “correct” form and it was the shorter interpretive that was viewed as erroneous by some usage guides. That has changed over time, and today interpretive is far more commonly used.

Trend Watch tracks and reports on the words that people are looking up. You can see all the Trend Watch articles here.

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