A simple back-formed verb in Bizarro:

The cartoon helpfully supplies the source of the verb, the noun information.

Though it’s hard to weed out occurrences of informate ‘to give information to’ from non-native speakers, here are a few examples that appear to be from native speakers:

After six months of futile effort to acquire replacements (the place where we had purchased the plates informated us that they had been discontinued) I called the Iittala distributor in New Jersey and learned about your Internet store. (link)

A Microsoft spokeperson has informated us that Microsoft is working with Apple to determine potential issues with running Virtual PC 7.0.1 in Mac OS X 10.4. (link)

There are many interesting points such as an elite group within NASA has the shuttle astronauts perform experiments without informating them about the true purpose of those experiments and without training them about the type of science being used. (link)

Great strides have been made this fall in reaching out to members of Congress, informating them on issues important to Michigan’s broadcasters. (link)

Back on 3/4/08, Amy West reported (in a discussion of felicitate and jubilate) that she was reminded

of a recent conversation with some community college colleagues, one in early education, who noted that her students were using the verbs “imaginate” and “observate”. Logically back-formed from “imagination” and “observation”, but nonetheless surprising that they didn’t connect the verbs “imagine” and “observe” with those nouns. I personally liked “imaginate” because it could be a blend of “imagine” and “create”.

But no informate, alas.

Meanwhile, from Wikipedia, I learn that informate as a technical term in information technology was coined by Shoshana Zuboff in her book “In the Age of the Smart Machine” (1988). There are plenty of cites in IT contexts in various fields (business, education, medicine, etc.)

The verb is sometimes glossed as ‘dispense information’, but that scarcely conveys its intended import in context, where it’s frequently contrasted with automate. From the abstract for Bruce A. Friedman (Pathology, Univ. of Michigan Medical School), “Informating, not automating, the medical record”, J. of Medical Systems 13.4 (August 1989):

The author suggests that reference should be made in the future to the need to informate and not to automate the medical record. The reason for this recommended semantic change is first to avoid the mistaken notion that the computerization of medical records will reduce the number of personnel processing medical information. Instead, personnel will shift their attention from rote clerical activities to analytic activities made possible by the creation of new data bases by computers.

This comes close to ‘extract information from’. (Note the reference to the terminological innovation as a “semantic change”.)

3 Responses to “informate”

  1. Ian Preston Says:

    Thanks for explanating that.

  2. Thomas Chacko Says:

    What do you think about forms like “cites” — which you yourself use in your present blog– and “invites” in place of “citation” and “invitation’ respedtively? Are they backformations, examples of clipping, or examples of using verbs as nouns?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      From my nouning files:

      cite ‘citation’ and quote ‘quotation’ [could be clipping rather than nouning]

      AMZ comment on LLog “My ask”:

      To Andy Hollandbeck, and amplifying a little on language hat’s comment: this use of “cite” is in common use by lexicographers and others searching corpora for citations; “two cites” has appeared on Language Log here (from me) and here (from Mark Liberman), and searches for “cite” in other contexts would undoubtedly turn up many more on Language Log. It is widely used on the American Dialect Society mailing list, which is probably where I picked it up, and on the Eggcorn Data Base.

      (The noun “cite” is in NOAD2 but not AHD4.)

      As with the noun “ask” (vs. “request”), the noun “cite” has advantages over the alternatives (“citation” and “quotation”/”quote”), in that it is more specific that they are and ties the word to a particular context (in this case, lexicography). And of course it’s shorter.

      MWDEU has a nice entry for the noun “quote”, by the way, which has been around since at least 1888 and has been strongly disapproved of by some commentators, though MWDEU notes that it “is now widely used in standard if mostly casual writing”.

      The noun cite is in OED3 (Sept. 2002), where it’s treated as a clipping of citation. Cites (chuckle) from 1957.

      My notes on invite: in OED2, marked colloquial, with cites from 1659 on; etymological note to cf. command, request, etc.

      New Scientist, 20 June 2009, p. 35: “Joe’s status as an AIDS dissident won him an invite [to Peter Duesberg’s laboratory].

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