Estimates of English’s total word count vary, but linguists agree the number ranks near the top of the world’s vocabularies. Some sources cite English as having as many as 300,000 distinctly usable words.
With so many residents in a vernacular, impostors posing as real words are bound to slip in. They start as mistakes but last long enough to wiggle into pockets of speech. Before long, they spread out, gaining confidence and popularity until they set their sights on the real prize: placement in a dictionary.
While casual conversation provides the most refuge for these con artists, their common usage still often lets them cross into composition’s more-managed domain.
Here are a few of those made-up words to remain on the watch for:
Imposter: administrate (v) / Real Word: administer
Imposter: participator (n) / Real Word: participant
Imposter: commentate (v) / Real Word: comment
Imposter: preventative (adj) / Real Word: preventive
Imposter: orientate (v) / Real Word: orient
Imposter: supposably (adj, adv) / Real Word: supposedly
Imposter: conversate (v) / Real Word: converse
Imposter: undoutably (adj, adv) / Real Word: undoubtedly
Imposter: irregardless (adj, adv) / Real Word: regardless
Imposter: vice-a-versa (adv) / Real Word: vice versa
Imposter: exploitive (adj) / Real Word: exploitative
Imposter: whole nother (adj) / Real Words: another, whole other
Imposter: firstly (secondly, thirdly, etc.) (adv) / Real Word: first (second, third, etc.)
Imposter: incentivize (v) / Real Words: encourage, motivate, reward
A few of these invaders, such as irregardless and preventative, have already cleared the fence, crossed their covert tunnels and arrived safely in dictionaries. That alone does not validate them, nor does it mean we should permit them into our writing.
You also probably noted several made-up words in the list include the suffix -ate. This is a common ploy some words will use to create more versions of themselves.
The suffix -ize operates much the same way. In addition to incentivize, keep an eye on words such as actualize, collectivize, intellectualize and normalize. Some words, such as finalize, prioritize, memorize and ostracize, need their three-letter caboose to deliver their meaning, but most -ize words are pitching tents where houses are built.
Made-up words present another call for us to lead the way in upholding concise, grammatical writing. By remaining vigilant, we can help halt the advance of the pretenders.