Posted by: Jack Henry | September 12, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Back Formation

Good morning, folks! I hope you had a lovely weekend. Let’s jump right into some fun with words.

The English language is full of words created by back-formation: that is, words created by subtracting from or adding to an original word. This process changes the part of speech (usually, but not always, from noun to verb). For example, years ago, the verb diagnose was created by back-formation from the noun diagnosis. Many of these words have been with us so long that we are unaware of how they originated, but they are widely accepted and are listed in reputable, popular dictionaries.

However, here at the editor’s desk, we put the nix on words that were recently created by back-formation, and we often get pushback from writers who claim that many people already use the word. One major reason we ask writers not to use these words is that we already have a perfectly good word and do not need the newly minted back-formation—it’s just trendy.

For example, many people have started using the word architecting (a back-formation of the noun architect), as in “They are architecting a new network.”Several great words already exist that we can use instead of architecting: building, designing,or developing. These options are better because they are listed and defined in our dictionary of choice: Merriam-Webster. Now, before you send me an email stating that architecting is listed in some other dictionary, I want to remind you that we adhere to Meriam-Webster, and we try to avoid jargon so that we appeal to the largest audience. I also want to remind you that it makes puppies and kittens sad when you don’t follow the JHA standards.

Another word I’ve heard people use is explicate (a back-formation from explicable). What’s the problem there, you ask? We already have a word for that: explain.

Here are a few more back-formatted verbs you should avoid. This is by no means a complete list:

· Conversate (use converse instead)

· Orientate (unless you’re British, use orient instead)

· Caretake (use take care instead)

· Administrating (use administering instead)

· Provisioning (use providing instead)

Your best bet is to check Merriam-Webster whenever you’re in doubt. If you don’t find the word you want to use there, look for a different word. Go ahead, make our day! J

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

Symitar Technical Publications Writing and Editing Requests

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