Q&A: Adaptation or adaption?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we're exploring “adaptation vs adaption”…

Q: …

A: Oh hello there.

Q: …

A: Um, what's going on?

Q: …

A: ?

Q: I'm doing the mannequin challenge – can't you tell?

A: It kind of loses something in text…

Q: Okay, true.

A: And isn't someone supposed to film you?

Q: Ooooh, THAT would have made more sense. Anyway, before we get started, is it “mannequin” or “manikin”?

A: The first one – “mannequin” is the doll form that shops put clothes on – and the name used for the “mannequin challenge”. Sometimes it is used interchangeably with “manikin” although that spelling is generally reserved for the anatomical human forms used by doctors and nurses.

Q: And the actor from The Princess Bride and Homeland?

A: That's Mandy Patinkin.

Q: Okay.

A: So what's on your mind this week?

Q: Last week I saw a press release for a film based on a Jane Austen book. It called it an excellent “adaption” of her novel. But I thought “adaptation” was the word?

A: It is common to see both around. And in terms of meaning, there may not be two words as closely connected to each other.

Q: What about “Siamese twins”? Those two words are quite connected.

A: Very good. We mean that both are nouns of the verb “adapt” and, really, despite some assuming they have subtle differences, they actually mean exactly the same thing.

Q: And that is?

A: There are two main meanings. The act of changing to suit new conditions, and – as in the Jane Austen example – a work of art recast into a new form or medium. That's it.

Q: So, we have identical twin words. But even twins have one that was born first.

A: True, and in this case “adaptation” turned up on the scene first in the 1590s – a French derivative of “adapt”. Around 20 years later, “adaption” appeared, and many attribute this to users simply getting lazy and taking a shortcut – much like a quicker walking path across grass alongside a paved path.

Q: Isn't there a name for that kind of path?

A: Yes, those are called “desire paths”.

Q: You could say that they're an “adaptation” of the original route!

A: Well played.

Q: So is one of these words preferred over the other?

A: Absolutely. We recommend using “adaptation” – as does nearly every dictionary on the planet. It has always been the more popular choice.

Q: So why do people still use “adaption”?

A: As we said earlier, perhaps they see it having a subtle difference in meaning, or like that it's shorter. But in every case, “adaptation” should really be substituted.

Q: So if I see “adaption”, accept that it's okay to have been used. But if I'm writing, best to avoid it?

A: Exactly. Adopt this approach to the noun of adapt and you'll become more adept.

Do you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore? Email it to us today!

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