The Grammarphobia Blog

Thanks for collocating!

Q: I’m taking an online course in emergency management and I’ve come across the word “collocate” used to mean share, as in, “a Unified Command to collocate facilities.” When I looked the word up, however, this usage seems incorrect. Please educate me!

A: The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb “collocate” as to set in a place, place side by side, or arrange.

The verb entered English in the 16th century (first recorded in 1548, according to the OED), but its ultimate source is the Latin col- (together) plus locare (to place).

Oxford says a specialized meaning in linguistics showed up in the mid-20th century: “To place (a word) with (another word) so as to form a collocation.”

A “collocation” is a group of two or more words that often appear together: “green” and “envy,” for example, or “blond” and “hair.”

The definitions in the two standard dictionaries we use the most—The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.)—agree with those in the OED.

It would appear that the language used in your emergency management course stretches the meaning a bit.

However, this isn’t all that unusual in the academic world, where educators often prefer a bureaucratic-sounding word like “collocate” to a simple one like “share.”

Thanks for sharing this—or, as the people teaching that course might say, collocating this!

Update: We’ve written a new post that updates and expands on this item.

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