Sending Out the APB on Made-Up Words

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.