Relating Correlation

Breakfast cereal a go-go:

Me: I swear, it’s on the box
The Fiber One box: Cardboard no. Delicious yes. (TM)
Jenn: I don’t care what it says, that box is lying!

This exchange brought up an enlightening little bit of verbal back-and-forth that I won’t recap here, but that ends with me investigating the differences between “relate” and “correlate”.

So how do I decouple two words that seemingly mean the same thing? How does a relationship differ from a correlation?

As always, my trusty guide is Merriam-Webster:


: to show or establish logical or causal connection between


: either of two things so related that one directly implies or is complementary to the other (as husband and wife)

If I’ve learned one thing from both research meetings and the XKCD webcomic, it’s that correlation and causation are two different (but related [nice!]) concepts.

If “relate” can be taken to imply a causation in at least one of its forms, then the difference is clear.

I was going to argue that relate seems more active – something applied to the humanities and live sciences – the relationship between spouses, children, animals or the environment. Correlate seems somehow colder, more distant; clinical.

I’m pretty sure those thoughts are at odds with Merriam-Webster but their differentiation is more elegant since it focuses on “relate” being causal and “correlate” being, well, “correlative”. I leave it to you to figure out the rest.

Until next time.

Aten Ants

I’m not losing my mind (well, I may be, but that’s beside the point) but I need a clever way to talk about the suffixes “ate” and “ant”.

Here, briefly, are Merriam-Webster’s definitions.


1 a: one that performs (a specified action) : personal or impersonal agent b: thing that promotes (a specified action or process)
2: one connected with
3: thing acted upon (in a specified manner)


: act on (in a specified way) : cause to be modified or affected by : cause to become : furnish with

I bring up the two similar suffixes because of two equally perplexing constructs I’ve encountered this week: “conversate” and “medicant”.

The fist, “conversate”, comes directly from a reality show competition on HGTV. Whereas I would have simply said “converse” or even “talk” one of the gentleman involved in the contest chose to say “conversate”, but why?

Even as I’m typing out this post, Firefox is angrily underlining “conversate” and insisting I change it to “conversation”, “conversant” (we’ll hold off on that one) or “converse”.

Maybe he thought “conversate” sounded more formal or that it related to some subset of normal conversation or that it described a specific act of conversing in some altered state.

I really have no idea except to say that it sounded incredibly forced and just plain wrong to me ear.

The only other time I can remember someone appending such a regular construct on to a word to get some grand new chimera was the use of the verb “orientate” as a stand-in for “orient”, “instruct” or “guide”. I think part of the problem here stemmed from the fact that I was an “Orientation Leader” at UGA. Since I held the title “Orientation Leader” my job must have been “orientating” or “to orientate”, right?

It was frustrating and grating to hear, but language can be like sandpaper now and again and I became deaf to that word by Summer’s end. Hearing “conversate” on TV brought it all back to my consciousness in a rush of memories (good AND bad) that compelled me to mention it here.

The second new word I heard this week comes from my wife, who wondered aloud if “medicant” could be an acceptable form of what most of us currently use, “medication”. Her touchpoint was irritate/irritation/irritant and so I gave her props and fired up my browser.

Merriam-Webster (again) agrees; medicant:

: a medicinal substance

So, not exactly “medicine” or “medication” but any medical substance, it would seem. Maybe a bandage or a topical ointment?

I’m not really clear as to why certain noun forms rate “-ants” or certain verb forms deserve “-ates”, I just now that my daughter says “Aten” sometimes when she means “Eaten” or “Ate” (depends) which is, itself, another blog post.

Until next time, ponder “ants”, “ates” and the word “conversant“.

Staging a Coupon Coup

I know you’re all dying to know what the Miller family discusses around the dinner table back at the old homestead so here’s a taste:

Coup versus Coupon: Are they remotely (or closely) related?

Turn out, yes they are.


Pronunciation: \ˈkü\
Function: noun
Etymology: French, blow, stroke


Pronunciation: \ˈkü-ˌpän, ˈkyü-\
Function: noun
Etymology: French, from Old French, piece, from couper to cut

Two things:

  1. Those French seem to have been working from some older source and may have crammed several meanings into one verb form that we went on to unpack and use for a few of our own. Plus, how nice is it that “cut” is one of those meanings, since the defining characteristic of coupons is that they are cut. Beautiful, this English language.
  2. People who utilize that secondary pronunciation of coupon – the one that sounds nothing like coup and everything like a kewpie doll – need to be punished.

I hope you enjoyed the etymology lesson. I know I did.

Farther Under Further Review

So I’m either obsessed with linguistic pedantry or else I’m just a stickler. Either way, post-Wicked last night Jenn and I had yet another discussion on words and their meanings and usages.

Up for grabs in last night’s winner-gets-nothing roundtable: Further and Farther

At first glance, the two seem pretty interchangeable. We easily talked ourselves in circles, weakening our vowels until the two words sounded virtually identical.

Here was our final agreement:

  • Farther: used in denoting a difference in distance between two concrete objects
  • Think Grover and his “Neeee-ar….. Far” comparisons or something declarative like “Chicago is farther from Miami than Atlanta.”

  • Further: a comparative for ideas and not objects
  • Upon further review
    Nothing could be further from the truth

I’ll admit to not using the internet as crutch until …. just now.

Here’s how we scored: PERFECT!

Well, mostly perfect. My word choice is a bit sketchy and I’m no Webster (so, clearly, I need both a dictionary AND a thesaurus for Christmas), but my internal barometer for the usage was spot-on.

Word nerds, FTW!


You know, today’s morning commute was much like all the rest. Unremarkable except for a slightly less congested ride no doubt due to the gas shortage in the Metro Atlanta area.

And then this conversation started from the back seat.

Jenn: Neigh
Owen: [Unintelligible]
Jenn: Hey Seth, how do you neigh
Me: Excuse me?
Jenn: You know; how do you make a neighing sound, like a horse. (She was reading Owen a farm-animal-themed book and needed creative direction)
Me: RRRheeeeeeherrrrrrrr! Phffffffffffffff!!!!11!!!Eleven *Gums Flapping*
Jenn: Yeah, but that doesn’t sound like “Neigh”
Me: But neither does a whinny. I don’t think it’s an onomatopoeia like “quack” or “bark”
Jenn: And neither of those sound exactly like the noise.
Me: Like “meow”.
Jenn: Right.
Me: Right.
Jenn: So how do you neigh again?

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

If only every morning were illuminated with the light of such discourse.