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What are the origins of the word orientated?

As far as I know, the correct spelling is oriented and orientated is not an alternative spelling but an error that is in common use.

Is it for example more commonly used in a certain country or by a certain people? Is there a reason for people choosing to say or write orientated instead of oriented?

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9  
+1 - I always get irritated when I hear "orientated" because I don't think it's a real word. –  Mark Henderson Feb 9 '11 at 2:53
    
I added the British English answer below. It looks like the question is already tagged as a British/American English difference. –  ukayer Feb 9 '11 at 4:00
    
Orientated is very common in U.S. military usage. If you're hearing it there, give up any hope of correcting it. –  J.T. Grimes Feb 9 '11 at 19:27
4  
When we have a word-difference between US and UK, how can we get our commenters not to call those on the other side stupid or ignorant? –  GEdgar Jan 20 '12 at 14:57
    
@BoofusMcGoofus - There are quite a few words commonly heard in the U.S. military that a person should be embarassed to utter in polite company. While not high on the list, this one would certainly be on it. –  T.E.D. Aug 27 '12 at 13:58

6 Answers 6

up vote 36 down vote accepted

People say orientated because they hear the word orientation and think that's the verb made from it. It's called a "back-formation". (See Why are "colleagues" becoming "work colleagues"?). Orientated is accepted as an alternate by most dictionaries I've seen.

To orient something comes from the medieval practice of building cathedrals so that the apse, the part of the building that contained the altar, would be on the eastern side (hence orient).

(I suppose if they screwed up and got it the other way around the architects just shrugged and said, "Well, occidents will happen.")

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Does that imply that it is a valid alternative to "oriented"? –  Tom Ravenscroft Feb 9 '11 at 2:16
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It is accepted, yes. I've edited my answer to include that information. But it sounds a bit awkward and you shouldn't be surprised if educated people smirk or try to correct you for using it. –  Robusto Feb 9 '11 at 2:19
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I wouldn't be. I'm usually the one smirking and correcting the people who use it. –  Tom Ravenscroft Feb 9 '11 at 2:32
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You get +1 for the pun alone. –  Kosmonaut Feb 9 '11 at 2:45
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THWACK! (I'd downvote you for the pun, except I'm still chuckling.) –  Marthaª Feb 9 '11 at 3:44

Orientate is standard in British English, you orientate something when you point it in a particular direction, hence orientated. In American English, you orient something, hence oriented.

englishplus.com/grammar suggests it is more widely accepted in the UK than in the US but should be avoided in formal writing. I found similar comments at wordwizard.com. I don't have the tools to do the formal statistical analysis, but growing up in the UK I don't think I ever heard anyone say the shorter form, hence my assertion that it is standard. I should probably have said more common in British English, and would love to see the stats if anyone can provide them.

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Care to back this up with evidence? Personally I find "orientated" quite irritating. oxforddictionaries.com defines "orientate" simply as "another term for orient" and gives its origin as a back-formation from "orientation", as Robusto said. –  John Bartholomew Feb 11 '11 at 3:13
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@John englishplus.com/grammar/00000245.htm suggests it is more widely accepted in the UK than in the US but should be avoided in formal writing. I found similar comments here wordwizard.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?t=6986. I don't have the tools to do the formal statistical analysis, but growing up in the UK I don't think I ever heard anyone say the shorter form, hence my assertion that it is standard. I should probably have said more common in British English, and would love to see the stats if anyone can provide them. –  ukayer Feb 11 '11 at 5:53
    
Fair enough. Thanks for the link. –  John Bartholomew Feb 11 '11 at 13:59
    
@John,ukayer: According to Google Books, on the American corpus oriented is about 60 times more common than orientated. But if you follow that link and switch to the British corpus, you'll see that it's only about 5 times more common in the UK. So orientate still a long way from being "standard", but it's over 10 times more "acceptable" to Brits than Americans (and it's fine by me :) –  FumbleFingers Apr 7 at 18:05

I'm Canadian and have only started hearing "orientated" recently. It sounds awful to my ears and back-formed as if someone is trying to sound smart.

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Apparently customer-oriented is more used than orientated. Check out Wording: http://en.bab.la/wording/

With the question "be customer ?" and oriented scores higher than orientated.

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As others have mentioned, the existence of the two forms oriented and orientated is one of the many differences that American English has from British English.

I have noticed this in American television programmes where American people have used the alternatives orient and oriented. This has always stood out as different and odd to me. Not only to me. It has been noticed by relatives when I watch television with them. They have commented on how different and odd this sounds to them as British people. They, like me, had not heard it until quite recently, in American television programmes.

It's different and odd because this is not normal in the UK. In all my life, I have only heard fellow British people use the words orientate and orientated. This is what I learnt, as a child.

My personal experiences are confirmed by the following dictionary entry for orientate, which mentions “(US orient)”: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/orientate_1?q=orientate

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To me, the verb, orient, sounds decidedly odd and I was totally unaware of its existence (as a verb) and its usage in the US until today. Glad you found a reliable reference to back up your "orientate" usage. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 22 '13 at 22:43
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@Mari-LouA and Tristan, I agree completely, and I wish the various commentators who say how irritated they are by this word would accept that that is not evidence for it being 'wrong'. If I hadn't read this post first I would have assumed 'orientate' was the older term which had been shortened to 'orient' in AmE - rather like Robusto saying 'as an alternate' when the proper word is 'alternative.' I think :) –  Mynamite Apr 7 at 19:42

Orientated is easier to pronounce in British English. Try to say it in an accent (real or otherwise).

  • Oriented. The t sound drops off too fast because of the word ending.
  • Orientated. Both t sounds are emphasized because they form the sound tayt and demand to be articulated.
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Can people please explain their downvotes... if this is correct (which it very well may be), it is useful as it helps explain why the usage of orientated may be more prevalent in British English. –  zooone9243 Sep 10 at 1:26

protected by tchrist Sep 27 '12 at 23:26

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