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 sending in the crowns…
Q: Hi AWC, I have a quick question this week.
Q: I was binge watching the historic handover of power in one of the world's most important nations this week.
A: Oh, so you watched the US election?
Q: Um, no it was actually a Netflix series about the events surrounding the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
A: Ah, okay then. You know, some consider that to be her crowning moment.
A: Thank you.
Q: But it does point to my question. The Queen's “coronation” was the occasion in which she was “crowned”. Meanwhile, I've just read an article talking about the new president set to be “coronated” in January. Are both correct?
A: Actually no. Only one of those is correct.
Q: Which one?
A: The act of receiving the crown is simply to be “crowned”. There is no verb “coronated” applicable to this situation. And in the case of the President, that term is usually “inaugurated” anyway.
Q: Okay, so that's a good point. One can be inaugurated at an inauguration, so why not get coronated at a coronation?
A: It's just how English rolls. “Coronation” is the noun, and comes from “corona” – relating to a crown. But “coronate” is an incorrect back formation of “coronation”.
Q: What's a back formation again? Is it a football thing?
A: No. A back formation is when a word is kind of retro-fitted into existence. It might seem like you would “coronate” someone at a coronation, but the verb is to “crown” someone.
Q: So “coronate” isn't even a word?
A: We wouldn't go THAT far. It is actually a word, and has been since the 17th century. However, its usage has been confined to flora and fauna – and as an adjective, not a verb. So a bird may have a plumage “coronate with blue feathers”.
Q: So it's in the Macquarie Dictionary?
A: Yes, but just as that adjective only – defined as: “having or wearing a crown, coronet, or the like”.
Q: I had initially wondered if it was a subtle distinction between royal or non-royal usage. Like a Queen would be crowned, but a Beyonce would be coronated?
A: No, no, no. Despite the fact we are seeing some growing evidence of it used as a verb, we recommend steering well clear of anything other than “crown(s)” or “crowned” for the verbs.
Q: And I guess Beyonce IS the Queen B.
A: Um, okay. Sure.
Q: Thanks for that. I think we've given this topic the right royal treatment.
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