I'm trying to explain the origin of the non-standard word "conversate" that is used in some circles. My theory is that it came out of an attempt to make the commonly used noun "conversation" into a verb by adding the suffix "ate" in the same manner that other standard english verbs are derived. For example:

noun: donation
verb: donate

noun: allocation
verb: allocate

noun: appropriation
verb: appropriate

What is the specific linguistic term for applying a perceived rule/pattern to other words incorrectly?

This is an example of ______?

  • @Josh61 So the term is "back-formation"? Can I say, "this is an example of back-formation"?
    – William
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:33
  • 6
    I'd definitely call it back-formation. You could say it was back-formated.
    – herisson
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:38
  • OP: Yes. @sumelic I’d add an additional “t,” spelling it “back-formatted.”
    – Rob Short
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:50
  • Back-formation it a general term for any new term formed from an exiting one: thefreedictionary.com/back-formation
    – user66974
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:53
  • 2
    @RobShort- I think you missed sumelic’s joke.
    – Jim
    Oct 13, 2015 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


It’s most commonly called “back-formation.”


An instance of verbalizing or verbalization.

To verbalize:

  • (Linguistics) to change (any word that is not a verb) into a verb or derive a verb from (any word that is not a verb).

(Collins Dictionary)

To conversate (v.):

  • by 1994, apparently a back-formation from conversation or an elaboration of converse. According to some, from U.S. black English.


  • 1
    Jesus, that tacked-on “According to some, from U.S. black English” in the Etymonline citation is some seriously repugnant racist sh*t.
    – Rob Short
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:52
  • 1
    @Rob Short: It depends on your preconceptions. If you consider all back-formations ignorant, and you consider any attribition of ignorance to black people racist, then I can see how the Etymonline citation could be considered racist. But as a descriptive source, Etymonline doesn't make any normative judgements (as far as I know). Whether the statement is shit (false) is a question of fact. It would be interesting to know if there is any factual basis to the claim is, and if so, what it is.
    – herisson
    Oct 13, 2015 at 20:48
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    @sumelic Disagree. Disagree completely. Your logic only holds if you can find instances on Etymonline that make specific reference to a word originating “from U.S. White English.” Don’t give me that “I’m against affirmative action because it’s demeaning to the underrepresented groups it professes to help” garbage. It’s the mealy-mouthed “According to some” that I’m talking about. It’s like saying “Well, don’t tell anyone I said so, but..."
    – Rob Short
    Oct 13, 2015 at 21:03
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    Additionally, is it really best practices to cite something attributed to “some”? Who is this “some”? Why should I care anything about what “some” says? Is “some” credentialed in some way?
    – Rob Short
    Oct 13, 2015 at 21:54
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    @all We have to be able to quote texts which may be considered racist here: this is a site about language, and different races have different styles and practices of English. That's why we talk of AAVE, BrE, Indian English, Singaporean English, and so on. Etymonline's comment is not racist per se; but it is calling out a potential racist attitude amongst those who hold that that is the origin. That there are some who hold "The origin is US Black English" is likely to be an objective fact. It doesn't make those people right or that term of phrase desirable, but it's not wrong to quote it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 15, 2015 at 8:50

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