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Q From Brandon Sussman: Sitting at my computer, I was listening to the dogs barking and carrying on. It seemed to me they were especially agitory (they certainly agreed), and to confirm this, I went looking for agitory in etherspace. I found many uses of it, but no citation for the word or other direct definition. Help!

A You will struggle to find this word in any dictionary. None of mine include it, not even the Oxford English Dictionary. Did you perhaps create it as a mental blend of agitated and jittery?

I’ve found agitory in a few places, but mostly in a political context. A 1942 issue of The Valley Morning Star of Harlingen, Texas has, “Captain Eddie Rickenbacker’s speeches are of an agitory nature. Far from contributing to the morale of workers in war plants, they are riling them exceedingly.” The online appearances are also political in nature. One says “The medium of multiple copies of cheap agitory pamphlets reinforced the message of lay involvement.” Another has “I would hold him as a[n] agitory-propagandist!”

These all look like a try at creating an adjective from agitator or agitation in the political sense. Why they’re bothering, I’m not sure, since agitational is quite common and is in a lot of dictionaries (more often American ones, for some reason). Others searching for a word with that sense have tried agitatorial or agitatory — the former is in the OED, as a rare word, but not the latter. However, agitatory is common online, and also turns up quite often in books, which makes me wonder why it hasn’t hit the dictionaries.

My guess is that the appearances of agitory you’ve found and I’ve quoted are all from agitatory with the middle syllable elided, a process called grammatical syncopation. This sometimes happens with words that have a repeated, stuttery syllable. A common example is interpretative, which is shortened to interpretive. A very few cases of agitorial are to be found online, no doubt created from agitatorial through the same process.

In your sense, I’d stick to agitated ...

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 4 Feb. 2006

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 4 February 2006.