Earlier this week I came across the word “coronate” in a comment and, in my unbounded paranoia, suspected the commenter was a native Russian speaker, possibly a member of the foreign propaganda corps or a volunteer auxiliary. He wrote about the American establishment’s myopic readiness to “coronate” Hillary Clinton.

Logically speaking, the writer’s mother tongue, assuming it was not English, could have been one of a dozen European languages – compare koronovat’ (Russian), (u)koronować (Polish), (in)coronare (Italian), coronar (Spanish). I went for Russian for extralinguistic reasons.

The verb “coronate” sounds like a needless back-formation from “coronation.” Paul Brians of Washington State suggests that “coronate” should only be used as an adjective. Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman of Grammarphobia write:

At a coronation, an archbishop “crowns” a king or queen; he does not “coronate” one – at least not in the opinion of most English speakers.

The Oxford English Dictionary does indeed include “coronate” as a verb meaning to crown, but it labels the usage rare. More important, the citations listed in the OED have nothing to do with royal coronations.

This morning, I looked through Steve Bannon’s interview with the Wall Street Journal and – bang! –

They were ready to coronate Hillary Clinton.

Is it Trump-speak perhaps? No. Merriam-Webster’s entry on the word has a priceless comments section replete with examples from the mainstream US and UK press. Do it yourself: search the New York Times for “coronate” and “Trump” via Google, like this. It should bring up an article from 2012 and a few from 2014-16. Moreover, you will find the paper’s own “editor for standards,” Philip Corbette, disparaging the Times‘ authors for using “coronate” instead of “crown,” in 2012 and then in 2014.


  1. Yes, probably derived from “coronation” just as the mildly annoying “obligate” – an unnecessary replacement for “oblige” – is derived from “obligation”.

    “Coronant” (“tagadir”) is an important word in Armenian history. In the early Middle Ages most of the great offices of state, not just that of the king, were hereditary. The Bagratunis, one of the leading noble families, jealously guarded the privilege of placing the crown on the king’s head during the coronation. Later, of course, the Bagratunis became a royal dynasty of Armenia in their own right.

    • I didn’t know that but I wondered at once if the hereditary offices were an Iranian custom. Apparently, the Parthian house of Suren held the same crown-bestowing privilege in Parthia for centuries. Was it a specifically Arsacid tradition?

      “Orientate” is another one, although it has a long history in BrE (about 160 years) and can be used in a different way than “orient.” It’s not popular with Americans, though.

      • Iranian influence is highly likely, even though I don’t have time to check in any great depth at the moment. There’s an enormous amount of Middle Persian vocabulary in the Armenian language, in excess even of the number of French words in English, so much so that it was believed to be an Iranian language until the late 19th century. However, I think the great noble families of Armenia (nakharars) were more powerful than their equivalents in Persia. The king was “primus inter pares” and often merely a puppet in the hands of feuding nakharars. Initially, the position of head of the Armenian church was also hereditary: Saint Gregory the Illuminator was succeeded by his male descendants until the death of Saint Sahak in the late 430s.

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