acclimate and acclimati{s/z}e: another extra syllable

So I gave my induction lecture today, in which I said to the students that something or other about university-level study can be difficult to acclimate to. Afterwards, my colleague the Syntactician queried my use of the verb acclimate (stress on the first syllable), since she'd say acclimatise in the same situation. And so would most BrE speakers. Either is acceptable in AmE, but to me, acclimati{s/z}e sounds better with physical rather than figurative climates. A quick look at Google suggests that there's something to that intuition. Counting the first 20 (I did say it was quick!) different hits for acclimate-to and acclimatize-to, I found:

acclimate to6122
acclimatize to        1811

(The items counted as 'other' were dictionary definitions or indices.)

Interestingly, most of the acclimatizes were about adjusting to high altitudes, and many of the acclimates were about adjusting to life at an American university. No wonder it leapt into mind today, as I was almost in the word's natural environment. (But haven't acclimated to saying acclimatised.)

Acclimate was originally used in Britain, but, like many other things we've discussed, it faded out of use here while hanging around in the US. The OED records acclimate as slightly older (1792 vs. 1836).

In discussing orientate and pressuri{s/z}e, I wondered whether we could find any verbs that usually contain more syllables in AmE than in BrE. Haven't heard of any yet, but here's another example of BrE being a bit more long-winded in its verbage.


  1. University educated in two different Canadian provinces and I don't think I've ever heard the word acclimate.

    I guess my knowledge of American English is limited to the vocabulary of Bart Simpson.

  2. I've just learnt a new word: I've never heard acclimate before.

  3. ...and to think I used this word to a bunch of British 19-year-olds yesterday. Probably gave them a good scare!

  4. > I wondered whether we could find any verbs that usually contain more syllables in AmE than in BrE.

    How about 'burglarize'?

  5. Good one!

    But don't be tempted to think that Americans have added syllables to burgle, as both words are derived (burgle by back-formation and burglarize by adding a suffix) from burglar. The two forms seem to have come about simultaneously in the 1870s. Oxford notes that burgle was at first a humorous and colloquial form.

    Both burgle and burglarize are heard in the US, though burglarize is more common. Oxford lists burglarize as "North American".

  6. Same syllables, but one more letter in AmE "envisioning" v BrE "envisaging" - sorry, desparate I know.

    re AmE "orient" v BrE "orientate", even as a verb the US version has a feeling of being specific to the East to my Anglo ears, which is why I much prefer the non-directionally specific BrE version. (This may have a shadow of the Asian discussion in there too.)

  7. This isn't a verb, but today I heard again the word "electric" used instead of "electricity" as in, the soldiers had no electric.

    I don't think I've ever heard that in the states!

  8. Well, if we get away from verbs, we'll have a deluge...

  9. There's a pretty funny use of the word "acclimatise" (or "acclimatize" as we would spell it in the US) in the movie White Cargo starring Clark Gable and Heddy Lamarr. Gable is repeatedly irritated by the British use of the word. We tend to use "acclimate".

    Compare, however, "legitimize" versus "legitimate" as verbs. I think Shakespeare used the latter, but the two are used equally in the US.

  10. Really? I don't know legitimate as a verb at all...

  11. Well, it grates on my ears but indeed it goes back to the 16th century. Perhaps I shouldn't have said "used equally" but I've heard it used in august circles, that is, when I was in the dowdy circle next door.

  12. Concerning 'legitimate' versus 'legitimise', I have to prefer the former. I think I prefer this form of all those verbs that have a derived adjective differing only in stress. Stress-final is the verb, antepenultimate-stress is the adjective. There are plenty of examples: 'emasculate', 'effeminate', 'postulate'. Even 'ultimate' has a stress-final form for a verb, 'to carry to an end'. A latinate (is that another example?) nominal still exists in 'ultimatum'.

  13. Back to burglary--I just noticed a word in the American Heritage Dictionary that I didn't know before: burglarious. It's not US-only, it's just a word no one uses much anymore, but I thought it sounds like something that could be used to advertise a bad situation comedy about people who break into houses.


  14. Where I live (Southern California), I hear orientate and conversate almost as often as orient and converse.

  15. Fascinating blog. I'm a Brit living in Switzerland surrounded by American ex. pats so you can imagine the fun we have...

    To the point. One verb that comes to mind that has more syllables in AmE compared with BrE is obligated / obliged. As a Brit, I would always say that I am obliged to do something. Without fail, my colleagues say that they are obligated. They are all from Minnesota though, so perhaps that doesn't count?

  16. Legitimate is a verb in Scots law meaning to make a child legitimate. In English law, you are either legitimate or not from birth on, but the Scots received the Roman law on this point (whereas the English Parliament specifically refused to do us, saying nolumus leges Angliae mutari, a saying later recycled by Charles I), and children can be legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their parents.

    What all this boils down to is that -ate is semantically empty in English, and words have it or not depending on whether they were borrowed from Latin as finite verbs or as participles.

  17. Okay, first of all, burglarious?? That word is AMAZING, I'm going to start (mis?)using it whenever I tell the story of the dude who tried to hold me up on my front doorstep on Mother's Day morning with an empty whiskey bottle in his hoodie pocket. BURGLARIOUS!

    Second, I think burgle is a pretty funny word. Here in the states, it's usually only used in a humorous context.

    As for obliged vs. obligated, obliged is less common, but when it is used, I think it's used with the context of something one ought to do, whereas obligated is used to describe something one must do (and usually there is an additional context of that something being unpleasant or bothersome).

    In general, in the US, using "the Orient" to refer to Asia is not very politically correct. As for the verbal usage, one doesn't often hear "orient" by itself anymore ("to orient oneself" is being replaced by "getting/finding one's bearings"), but "disoriented" is very common. That being the case, I MUCH prefer "oriented" to "orientated".

  18. in biology, acclimate refers to an individual adjusting to a new environment, while acclimatize is reserved for a species adapting over several generations.

  19. That comment on the word "Orient" reminds me of a British participant at a conference in Singapore who referred to business practices in "the Far East". The Singaporean moderator asked if he meant to say South East Asia, because to Singaporeans the "Far East" would have to refer to America.

  20. Personally, I have never heard acclimatize used. In fact, I didn't even know the word existed until I read this blog. Also, I detest the words "orientate" and "conversate." I hear them used often, but almost always by less educated people. Though "orientate" does come up as correct in my spell checker. Both just sound wrong to me.

    (AmE - Arizona specifically)

  21. Sorry for butting in like this as an anon, I promise I'll sign up when I have more time...

    Re: obliged vs obligated. Obliged is an elegant and somehow unobtrusive word whereas obligated is

    a) unnecessary (obliged can be used freely in any context)


    b)clumsy and ugly.

    Ergo, why use a clumsy and ugly word when an elegant alternative is so easily available?

    Maybe this debate deserves a thread of it's own...

    Best wishes,


  22. The worst is "ought" - that doesn't deserve to be a word. What is wrong with saying "should"??/

  23. oh puhlease---

    I for one have never been exposed to such linguistic atrocities as "innit", "brolly" or any other horrid butchering of the queen's English by her subjects until moving to the UK. The worst part is that they come up on signs, there was a signs at a shop selling brolly's whereas in the states you wont really find someone overtly advertising do's instead of haircuts.

    Just my 2p

  24. this may be a dated post but i still feel i should comment. as an exercise physiologist acclimation and acclimatization are two different words. acclimate is used to describe a person's immediate responses to a new environment, such as hyperventilating at a high altitude (yes this is an attempt to get more oxygen). while acclimatization describes the longer-term responses you acquire, such as having an increased RBC count after 2 months in high altitude (to better transport more oxygen)

  25. One dated post deserves another. Great comment string. I have NEVER heard conversate. Wild. Recent exchange on twitter along this line. Someone was defending preventive over preventative. I use them both, however. A preventative would be a potion or medicine used as a preventive measure to ward off disease. I don't know if there is a BrE/AmE divide on this one.

  26. Oh but oughtn't is delicious...

  27. Personally I use obligated (admittedly not very often) as a participle of obligate in the sense that OED expresses as

    a. To make (a person) indebted; to confer a favour on, gratify. Usu. in pass. Now chiefly U.S.

    More often I would say under an obligation but I could say I feel obligated.

    By contrast, obliged in my speech usually means 'grateful'. As in

    Some of you mens/womens sure do make me tired
    Got a handful of gimme's and a mouthful of much obliged

    With following TO-clause, I can say obliged to do it, but never obligated to do it.

    PS Ought is handy because it expresses a narrower obligation than should.

    You should go may express a timeless obligation.
    You ought to go (for me) strongly suggests an obligation at a particular time

    (Of course should can also be used for the latter.)

  28. BrE (Scot, 60+) The whole syllable-adding thing fascinates me. On the orient/orientate post, a tongue-in-cheek commenter suggested “orientificate”. This excessive syllable adding was a trait attributed to George W Bush by British comedians and satirists. For that reason and no other, I assumed that “orientate” was an Americanism. Ouch! Slap my wrist! I have been told that orientate actually means “ render in an oriental fashion, especially with respect to the decorative arts.”. I haven’t been able to confirm this.

    I once had a (youngish) project manager who talked about administrating her project. I initially thought “you mean administer”, but the thought about administering medicine/drugs. Basically, if it doesn’t sound right, find another word.

    Why do we talk about classic cars, but classical music? How lng before someone uses iconical?


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)