Random Scribbles: The action of curation

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

Curate–and its cognates “curated,” “curation,” and “curating”–has become a buzzword.

Here are some recent examples:

If you want to understand how fast curation is growing on the web, just take a look at Pinterest. (Fast Company)

The database includes 6,000 curated Wikipedia articles, thousands of Khan Academy videos, a deep database of health and wellness content, thousands of K-12 text books (most including teacher editions), world literature, and a variety of other educational content. (Forbes)

DMA opens up to consumers a library of over 400 titles from these three major studios and lets them preview upcoming releases and enjoy hours of free new and exclusive short-form content, and discover content curated to their individual preferences. (Animation Magazine)

Several artists have complained that they can’t pull their music off Pandora, a service that curates music but doesn’t offer on-demand listening for specific songs. (Washington Post)

Except that “curate” is not a word.

According to the Webster’s New World Dictionary (Second College Edition), it doesn’t exist as it is currently being used–as a verb. And the spell check in Microsoft Word flags “curation” and “curating” as misspelled.

I was surprised to learn this. Having read the word so often in the media, I had assumed that it passed muster.

However, curate–when used as a verb–appears to be a back-formation* from the noun curator, similar to how the word “edit” (verb) was invented from the word “editor” (noun).

Language evolves constantly, I realize, so I should get off my high horse. But I guess I didn’t expect it to evolve not only within my lifetime, but just since I graduated from college. The addition of the word “selfie” to Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary recently created a bit of a brouhaha (itself a word adopted from the French as a corruption of a saying in Hebrew). But when the dust settled, it does make sense.

I’m thinking that “curate” will be coming soon to a lexicon near you.

*Back-formations are when an existing word is mistakenly understood to be a variation on a nonexistent word.


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