The Grammarphobia Blog

Supersize that word?

Q: It has always bothered me when people use the word “orientate.” Is there a difference between “orientate” and “orient,” as in “They oriented the students as to the layout of the school”? Similarly, I am irritated by the overuse of the word “signage.” Would not “signs” be just as effective? “Orientate” and “signage” seem to me to be unnecessary altogether. Am I being ridiculous?

A: You certainly are NOT being ridiculous. “Signage” is merely a pumped-up version of “signs.” I take umbrage at “signage”!

This usage is relatively recent and (like so many other examples of stretched-out words) appears to have originated in legal-speak, or so one would surmise from the first published reference in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The earliest citation is from a court ruling in a 1976 issue of the Federal Register: “All signage, stationery, forms, calling cards and other symbols are identical with no distinction between the main bank and the drive-in facility.”

A few other examples of supersized nouns, puffed up merely to make the speaker sound more authoritative, are “spillage” (spills), “wastage” (waste), and “shirtings” (shirts).

As for the extra-large “orientate,” take a look at the “right orientation” posting on Oct. 26, 2007. You also may be interested in the related “conversation stopper” posting on Nov. 13, 2007.

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