Writing for Business

Jan 13 2010   7:56PM GMT

Administrate or administer?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
When time is an issue, a disk cloning product that is fast and easy to _________ is important.
a. administrate
b. administer

Answer: Either is correct. But maybe b is more correct — read on:

Although many people think that “administrate” isn’t actually a word (and you could have counted me among them until very recently), dictionary consensus informs that it’s synonymous with “administer.”

In this discussion, sapparis claims that “administrate” is not even a new form.

However, there are those who are not keen on administrate.

Here’s an argument for sticking to administer from reader Steve Glushakow-Smith:

“Administrate is from the same word source as ‘administer’. So it cannot be claimed to be a made up word, even though I would lay money on a wager that the first usage was by some bureaucrat. In the save venal way that scandals are now considered headline news (e.g., Tiger Woods), just because a work force decided to bastardize usage and increase the use of ink and just because the rules of language construction permit the construction, does not mean that we should ENCOURAGE such usage.

Political correctness should not impact language evolution. Unfortunately, the game of Scrabble does!

As the 1812 Webster says:

ADMIN’ISTRATE, In the place of administer, has been used, but is not well authorized.

While the last phrase could apply to many government programs, where is the advocacy for clarity and simplicity? Just because one can does not mean that one should.

And, please, remember that the Latin source for the term is over 2000 years old – so why not return to Latin (as an extension of your logical construct)?

I believe the criticism should not be that the term ‘administrate’ is not made-up, but although it follows well established rules for constructing English verbs out of Latin, it violates a brevity principle (a shorter cognate term with virtually identical meaning is available for use) and borders on class distinction usage (members of the bureaucratic ‘class’ are inclined to use the term more than blue collar populations) – no, I have no proof for that claim, but I believe it sounds good.

If American English is supposed to be as democratic as the U.S. (language reflecting culture, etc.), then both forms should be allowed to exist (hence the number of dictionary entries). Encouraging usage, however, is a different question altogether. Unlike the French living in France or French Quebec, who have (used to have?) a committee to rule on language changes, the U.S. and Britain are two wonderful nations divided by a common language. We don’t have a ‘language police’, but this nation needs a much-increased dose of self-control.

Incidentally, I grew up ‘inside the beltway’, was born in D.C., and have spent many years on contracts supporting various Administrations that administer government (the narrowly ‘approved’ usage of the verb).

As a general rule, adding an unnecessary ‘ate’ to the end of the word reminds me whether I’ve already eaten or not.”

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