So a bunch of people noted in yesterday's Ebonics thread that conversate wasn't a word, because it wasn't in the Oxford English Dictionary. Well, I had nothing better to do today, so I decided to call up the OED people and see if I could get an editor to talk to me. Jesse Sheidlower, Editor At Large for the Oxford English Dictionary, was nice enough to bring some knowledge to this most important subject.
Ta-Nehisi: So is conversate a word?
Jesse Sheidlower: Of course it's a word, the question is, is it acceptable. There are a lot of things that are acceptable in some situations, and not acceptable in others. "Table" is generally acceptable, but "ass" or "fuck" might not be, In some cases they would. It's the same for "hopefully" or "irregardless." They're all words, but it behooves us to be serious and ask, is it acceptable in this context? If you're delivering the State of the Union address, maybe "fuck" is not acceptable. If you're having sex with your girlfriend, maybe it is acceptable.
TNC: If a word isn't in the OED, does that mean it isn't actually a word?
JS: No, not all. No dictionary can include all words. The OED can only cover a small fraction of all the words out there. There's nothing official about the OED or any other dictionary out there. People sometimes think that it is, or pretend that it is. I think it's the most comprehensive and the best researched. But there are zillions of words that are not in the OED.