Sunday, December 28, 2008

Word Tidbits: Expatiate

In one of those lexical coincidences that befuddle many, I recently came across the word expatiate in two books in a row. I can't recall ever having seen the word before, and so I immediately made a note to research it for you folks.

Expatiate acts as an intransitive verb, meaning that it does not require an object. It generally gets an explanation, however, because it generally means digression or wandering off-course. Thus, if you could say, “I expatiate,” and have spoken a grammatically correct sentence, but your listener will wonder from what or about what. Actually, they'll probably ask you for a dictionary.

The roots of the word explain its meaning. Expatiate, as are so many English words, started in Latin and is built from the preposition ex, meaning out of or away from, and spatiatum, meaning space or course. You could use it thus: the captain allowed the ship to expatiate until the crew were convinced that they were hopelessly lost. I didn't find any similar examples, however. It seems that writers use the word as a synonym for expound or digress, and sometimes a combination of the two, instead of literally indicating a diversion from an intended course.

“I found myself expatiating on the merits of digital music at Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Alfred expatiated on office supply choices and his peculiar filing system rather than contributing helpfully to the meeting.”