Word Watch: expediate (aka ‘expedite’)

Credit: Poussin jean

Credit: Poussin jean

‘Expediate’ — which most of us know as ‘expedite’ — has been gaining legitimacy.

The American Heritage Dictionary online has a new entry for it, although it labels the word a “usage problem.”

“Some people use the verb expediate where expedite would properly be used, as in The government wants to expediate the processing of visa applications. The Usage Panel roundly rejects expediate. In our 2009 survey, 85 percent rejected the sentence quoted above.”

This was reported recently in the Lingua Franca blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education by Dr. Anne Curzan (PhD). Dr. Curzan, professor of English at the University of Michigan, where she also holds appointments in linguistics and the School of Education, is also a member of the American Heritage Dictionary‘s Usage Panel, but she said she can’t remember how she voted on ‘expediate.’

The word’s rise may be due, in part, to the fact that multisyllabic verbs ending in -(i)ate vastly outnumber those ending in -ite, she suggested. For example, she noted that the most common -iate verb in the Corpus of Contemporary American English is ‘appreciate’ (with a frequency of 18,395) while the most common -ite verb listed is ‘invite’ (5,891).

The adjective ‘expedient’ might play a role as well, she added.

“I myself am not expediting this new development in my own speech at the moment, and I would circle it in students’ formal written work to give them a heads-up about its nonstandardness right now,” Dr. Curzan wrote. “But as a historian of the English language I am, more than anything, intrigued by what might have sparked this change and will be keeping my eye on usage … to see how it plays out.”

Regarding the picture of the statue of St. Expedite: I remember reading in one of Helen Hanff‘s books that when the French still owned the Louisiana, they sent crates of statuary over to populate the territory’s Roman Catholic churches. The locals, noting the stamped “Fragile” and “Expedite” on the crates, assumed they were the names of the saints whose statues were contained therein. Hence, St. Fragile (who seems to have fallen out of favour) and St. Expedite (the picture above is of a statue in a New Orleans mausoleum).

The only reason I can think of to doubt the story is that there is neither a St. This Side Up or a St. Haut.~TM


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