by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©2005 by Paul Niquette. All rights reserved.
"He . . . stood for a moment, orientating himself exactly in the light of his knowledge"
-- John le Carré
orientate v.t. orient 
  1. To place or turn toward the east; to cause to assume an easterly direction, or to veer eastward. 
  2. To arrange in order; to dispose or place (a body) so as to show its relation to other bodies, or the relation of its parts among themselves. 
No fewer than five decades have passed since the word was disparaged by Miss Meyer, my high-school English teacher.  "It's obviously a misguided back-formation from 'orientation'," she sniffed, "as silly as saying 'reconciliate'."  I'm cool with that.  The verb 'orient' has worked for me in every context for half a century.  I never gave 'orientate' a thought -- until just the other day. The word 'reconciliate' appeared in a technical document, and I flashed back.  "How silly," I thought to myself.
Just for fun, I consulted the OneLook Dictionary Search.  Sure enough, there is exactly one worldwide reference for 'rec•on•cil•i•ate'.  Random House Unabridged Dictionary gives a one word definition, 'reconcile' -- apparently with a straight face.  Ah, but does anybody in the world actually use that silly word?  A quick googling of "reconciliate" turned up 6,000 pages.
That discovery marked the beginning of a personal effort to identify every potential "misguided back-formation" -- verbs that might have been derived from English nouns ending in '-ation'...
adaptate, administrate, admirate, adorate, affirmate, applicate, authorizate, aviate, cessate, civilizate, classificate, combinate, commendate, compilate, condemnate, condensate, confirmate, confrontate, considerate, consoltate, constellate, consternate, constipate, consultate, continuate, conversate, corporate, declarate, degradate, derivate, desolate, destinate, determinate, detestate, disputate, documentate, durate, examinate, exclamate, expectate, experimentate, explanate, explorate, exultate, fermentate, formate (hah! back-formate), foundate, gratificate, hospitalizate, identificate, imaginate, implementate, inclinate, indentate, indignate, informate, inspirate, installate, institutionalizate,  interpretate, invitate, invocate, justificate, lamentate, limitate, machinate, manifestate, materializate, modificate, naturalizate, observate, occupate, organizate, ornamentating, ovate, perspirate, perturbate, preparate, presentate, preservate, private, prolongate, pronunciate, provocate, publicate, qualificate, realizate, recitate, rectificate, registrate, renunciate, reorganizate, representate, reputate, respirate, restorate, revelate, salutate, salvate, sanitate, significate, simplificate, starvate, temptate, transfigurate, transformate, transportate, tribulate, triturate, verificate, vocate.
Some of the strangest entries appear on non-English websites (presumably not as back-formations), but readers will find the rest of these snazzy concoctions already in use as English verbs in thousands of places.

Lopping off the '-ate' along with the '-ion' gets you back to the original verb ('orient', 'reconcile') -- usually but not always (congreg, congratul, delini, desegreg, expostul, investig, legisl, loc, ov, particip, penetr, popul, retali, segreg, transl, tribul).  One reason is that English appropriated many verbs from other languages by merely tweaking them with the '-ate' suffix.  For example, here is a collection of French infinitives that became English verbs that you will recognize.  Unlike the verbs in the previous list, each cannot live without its '-ate.'

abrétier, abdiquer, accumuler, agglomérer, agiter, anticiper, apprécier, approprier, capituler, collaborer, commémorer, confisquer, contaminer, contempler, coopérer, couronner, corréler, corroborer, cultiver, défenestrer, dégénérer, déléguer, délibérer, démontrer, déréguler, déroger, détoner, dicter, discriminer,  disséminer, dominer, donner, durer, éduquer, élaborer, élever, éliminer, émanciper, émuler, évacuer, exagérer, exterminer, faciliter, fasciner, fédérer, générer, germiner, graviter, halluciner, hésiter, hiberner, humilier, imiter, immigrer, impliquer, indiquer, innover, inoculer, insinuer, instiguer, interpoler, inonder, investiguer, isoler, manipuler, mastiquer, méditer, modérer, mutiler, opérer, précipiter, préméditer, proliférer, promulguer, propager, ponctuer, réciter, réguler, réhabiliter, séparer, simuler, spéculer, stagner, stipuler, suffoquer, tolérer, vénérer, ventiler, violer.

The back-formationists among us with a penchant for ornamentating verbs with '-ate' (degradate, orientate, reconciliate) must compete with forward-formationists, especially the '-ize' enthusiasts (accessorize, bureaucracize, definitize, finalize, prioritize... zanicize), not to mention advocates for '-ify' (amplify, beautify, codify, deify,... zombify).

All right then, what about 'orientate'?  At least 15 dictionaries have solemn entries that define 'orientate' as an alternative for 'orient'.  Fastenate your seatbelt: The verb 'orientate' appears on the web at more than 1,600,000 sites.  The previous sentence does not end with an exclamation point, but the next one does.  The very first google-hit could well have been written by Miss Meyer!

Orient or Orientate?

The word orient as a noun means "east." It may be capitalized when referring to the geographical location of the Far East.

Example: Hong Kong is located in the Orient.
Orient as a verb means to "find direction" or "give direction." The noun form of this kind of orienting is orientation. Sometimes people in their speech will form an imagined verb from orientation and say orientate. There is no such word as orientate. The correct word is the verb orient.
Incorrect: Melanie is helping me get orientated to the new job.
Correct: Melanie is helping me get oriented to the new job.

Which makes me wonder if Miss Meyer's first name might have been Melanie.

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