A physicist loose among the liberal arts

I ate verbs

Brenton Dickieson (whose name my autocorrect fights with all its strength) made his way through John Calvin’s Institution of Christian Religion.  A formidable accomplishment (944 pages!), but such are the labors of the theologian.  It’s the best way to teach them perseverance and humility, since they never have to collimate optics in the laboratory.

"Ate" as a suffixAt one point, Brent vouchsafed that next time through, he will read a modern translation that is free from “all those obscure -ate verbs we lost long ago in verb form (like arrogate, abominate, irradiate, obviate, vitiate, actuate, inculcate, supplicate, promulgate, propitiate, intimate, abrogate, expiate, execrate, extenuate, expostulate, derogate, vacillate, and, of course, predestinate).”

These verbs are far from lost!  Nuclear physicists irradiate many things. (Only doing it unintentionally is frowned upon.)  In engineering documents I have frequently used “actuate”, “abrogate”, “inculcate”, “extenuate”, and “promulgate” and none of my reviewers has raised an eyebrow.  To abominate, execrate, or derogate things is frowned upon (deprecated?) in the modern, hyper-polite workplace, so I always have to change those.

My status as a liberal artisan is known and indulged so I can use “obviate” and “vitiate” with only a remark en passant from the editor about not using too many “Joe-words”. “Vacillate” is the mot juste for dealing with recalcitrant bureaucrats. And of course I challenge anyone to spend an hour among engineers without observing any behavior for which “arrogate” is the only possible verb.

All told, of Brent’s 19 lost verbs, I use 12 regularly and get away with 9.  I hope that this effort to enumerate them may mitigate his dismay, in part.


One time ignorance was bliss


Boëthius goes to Science Class


  1. I’m with you, Joe. I, too, am well versed in these verbs, most of them anyway. Perhaps this just makes us ‘lost verb users’. Whether ‘lost’ there modifies ‘verbs’ or ‘users’ or both is uncertain. A Venn diagram might clarify matters.

    ‘Predestinate’ sounds like what’s left behind as the result of an alchemical process aimed at separating the elements of Fate (Mr) and Chance (Tk).

  2. Joe

    Since it’s Preakness day, there are racehorses in the news. It turns out that a horse named Arrogate won the Breeders’ Cup last November.

  3. I left a comment but I don’t see it.
    This is funny, well played. It is interesting that all the words exist in nominal form still. And funny that we don’t use “arrogate” but we do use “navigate.”

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