Conversating on Judge Judy

A brief exchange on Judge Judy the other day caught my ear and set me off on an illuminating web search.

It seems that after Judy corrected a plaintiff who used the word “conversate”, she was inundated with emails pointing out that “conversate” is in the Merriam Webster dictionary and she was wrong to object to its use.

A quick Google led to an hour or so wandering through multiple sites running the gamut from learned exchanges between linguists and grammarians about the role of back-formations in the development of language to politically-charged discussions about Ebonics as a legitimate field of study.

Some things I learned along the way:

  • A back-formation occurs when a new word is formed by removing a suffix from an earlier word. An example – “donation” entered the language in the 15th century. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the verb “donate” came into use.
  • The vegetable “pea” is a back-formation of “pease” as in “Pease porridge hot; pease porridge cold”.
  • “Orientate” is frowned upon in American English, but commonly used in Britain. By the way, it actually means “to face or turn to the east.
  • Kids now use “versus” as a verb, as in “The Leafs are versing the Hawks tonight.”
  • “Third” started life as “thurd”.
  • A favourite pet peeve of mine – “axe” instead of “ask” - is a legitimate pronunciation in the American south.
  • It’s great that English continues to evolve, but sometimes it looks and feels like revolution.
  • I won’t conversate anytime soon, but maybe I’ll be a bit more tolerant of those who do.


The Osborne Group has been helping organizations succeed since 1993. Based in Toronto, Ontario, The Osborne Group provides a wide range of professional interim management, project management, and coaching and consulting services to small and medium enterprises, not-for profit organizations, and the public sector.

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