Is “conversate” a word?

Although you may hear the word “conversate” occasionally, it is not recognized by Merriam-Webster as an actual word. If you look it up in their online dictionary, it reads simply “nonstandard.” However, there’s a little more to the story.

It’s considered a back-formation, which is a word created by taking out a portion of an existing word. In this case, the original word is “conversation.” This may seem like a strange thing to do, but we actually have many words in the English language that were formed this way. The noun “donation” entered our language in the 15th century, with the shortened verb form “donate” following hundreds of years later in the 19th century. Other words formed this way include “syndicate” and “edit.” Of course, these and other words formed this way are completely acceptable, standard words.

“Conversate” also appeared long ago, the first time recorded being in 1829. Despite its continued use since its debut, it remains on the fringe of the English language: we all know what is meant, but most people believe it is not a proper word. One reason could be that the word “converse” is shorter and simpler, and the extended version seems superfluous. There are many synonyms that can be used, as well, many of which are preferred to the unwieldy “conversate.” Another perspective to consider could be that most recently, the word is favored as African-American lingo, often in rap songs. It can be considered a dialect variation, that is acceptable in some social groups even though technically it is not recognized as a word.

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