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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Conversate on the Train

A friend posted this on his Facebook page:

    "If you need to conversate, please use the other cars."
                (Conductor on the train, 'conversating' with us . . .)

Another friend criticized. Conversate he argued, is not a word:

    "It's 'converse' and 'conversation' combined . . . One's a verb, the other a noun. 
      You can't make it both. So it satisfies nothing."

I jabbed a reply:

     "Some diehard word columnist must be a rider on your train, . . . you could probably even track down 'conversate's chief defender!"

I decided to look up conversate online.  It is a word, first recorded use in 1973:

Merriam Webster:

     con·ver·sate intransitive verb \ˈkän-vər-ˌsāt\
     Definition of CONVERSATE:
     : converse
     Origin of CONVERSATE
     back-formation from conversation
     First Known Use: 1973

Urban Dictionary:

    A word used by backwards, ignorant, illiterate inner city trash who mean to say 'converse'.
    "Yo, I just needs to conversate witcha!" 

The rest of Urban Dictionary citation is unquotable. The Black-Eyed Peas sang the word in the 1990's, part of a song rich with sexual innuendo, "we could let our body conversate", probably because of the ending '-sate' which makes conversate resemble words where the root sat means 'enough' as in satient (giving pleasure, satisfying), saturate, and satisfy. Another citation states:  "(An) Ebonics version of the intransitive verb 'converse'; urban hybrid of the two words 'converse' and 'conversation'”.

Conversate doesn't just mean talk with someone.

Converse, the verb to talk or speak, has the accent on the second syllable, i.e kon-VERSE. Converse with the accent on the first syllable means opposite, or reversed, as in converse of a mathematical theorem. Converse as in All-Stars, the famous basketball shoe is also pronounced KON-verse.

English thrives on class warfare. The well-schooled will complain the masses are subverting the language. Strike 'ain't' from English? Be prepared to lose most of "Huckleberry Finn", arguably the greatest work of American fiction. Use only proper English in music? Lose all of rap, most of Dylan and all of the Rolling Stones. If controlling language is your goal, you "ain't gonna get no sat-is-fac-tion".

Conversely, words morph, switch meanings, and put on other people's clothes. I'm reminded of the last episode in Season 5 of the popular TV series, "Mad Men":

An advertising exec named Peter Campbell, has a boring train companion who sits opposite him during commutes, boring until he meets the man's lovely wife in the parking lot. Then he does what advertising execs are supposed to do, he takes her back to her own living room and conversates with her on one of their upholstered chairs. Needless to say, he is not a gentleman, not until he learns she is so depressed that she's headed into shock therapy, and wanted one last tryst of love with Mr. Campbell, something she hopes she'll remember when she wakes up. Alas, when he visits her in the hospital, with flowers, she can't remember him at all. Their lovemaking is gone, like a forgotten word.

This piquant episode, reminiscent of Cheever's "5:48", and Ken Kesey, "Cuckoo's Nest", ended with Campbell slugging her husband on the train, for submitting her to such radical treatment. This won Campbell a stout fist from the conductor in return. He slinks home bloodied, to conversate with his wife.

Photo credit: Still from TV Series, 'Mad Men'

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