Caught from an interviewee on the Commonwealth Club of California Radio Program: cross-pollinize (rather than cross-pollinate), in this case used figuratively (rather than in its botanical use).

I’m going to focus on these two features — the choice of pollinize rather than pollinate as the verb derived from the noun pollen, and figurative as well as botanical uses of the two verbs — and on their coverage in a few dictionaries, but there are also some side issues having to do with spelling.Side issues first. Both verbs have had spelling variants with pollen- rather than pollin- as the first element. The first spelling uses the English botanical noun pollen directly as the base. The second spelling is etymological; it uses the variant pollin- from classical Latin: nominative sg. pollen, genitive sg. pollinis ‘fine flour, fine powder’.

The OED (draft revisions from 2006-2008) has early spellings (from the 1870s) based on English, but the evidence of the cites shows that spelling shifted fairly quickly to almost categorical use of pollin-.

Next, there’s variation in whether the words with cross- are spelled with a hyphen (cross-pollinate), written separate (cross pollinate), or written solid (crosspollinate). (Such orthographic variation is common with compound and compound-like words.) The historical and botanical usages are very heavily in favor of the hyphenated variants, but the evidence of Google suggests that the separated spellings are now fairly frequent, and that the solid spellings occur occasionally.

Then there’s the variation between the spelling of the derivational suffix as -ize or -ise. As is well-known, Americans use the -ize spelling almost invariably, but the -ise spelling has a very complex geographical distribution. (This is just a brief characterization of the situation. There are many further complicating details — but extended discussions of the spelling variation can easily be found in many places.)

On to the main events.

First, -ize vs. -ate. The early cites in the OED online are much taken up with this question: can anyone suggest a better term than pollenization? should the verb be pollenate or pollenize? The -ate variant came to predominate (botanical cites in the OED from 1873 through 1994), but it hasn’t supplanted the –ize variant (botanical cites in the OED from 1873 through1999); current Google searches have -ate over -ize by a substantial margin, but the number of -ize hits isn’t trivial.

(Oddly, the OED online lists pollinize without further comment, but marks pollinization as chiefly North American.)

In any case, the -ize variant is alive and well. I prefer the -ate variant (which is why I noticed the usage in the CCC interview), but others have -ize as a possibility. AHD4 lists pollenize ‘pollinate’, without comment, but NOAD2 doesn’t have it. Neither has cross-pollenize ‘cross-pollinate’. Meanwhile, the OED‘s coverage of the cross- words is minimal, no doubt because the version online is from OED2 (1989), unrevised: a listing in the entry for cross-, with only one (botanical) cite (with the spelling cross-pollenate), from 1920; and a separate entry for cross-pollinate (with that spelling), with only one (botanical) cite, from 1882.

On to the uses of the cross- words. NOAD2 has cross-pollinate (and cross-pollination), but only in botanical use, thus echoing OED2. AHD4 has them, but it lists the figurative sense ‘to influence or inspire (another), especially in a reciprocal manner’ as well as in the botanical sense.

Figurative uses of the cross– words are common and unremarkable, to judge from Google searches. You can find lots of cites for things like “cross-pollinate our efforts” and “ideas cross-pollinate”, and (though the -ize variant is less common) some for things like “cross-pollinize ideas and resources” — the use in the CCC interview. These uses are a natural metaphorical extension of the botanical uses.

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