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This morning NPR reported on a woman who was "resignated" from her position at Google — that is, she says she was forced to resign. The Urban Dictionary's definition of resignate, `to force or otherwise cause the resignation of someone or something', clearly fits the context of being resignated from a job. This verb is an interesting example of an analogic back-formation from the noun resignation, based on analogic models like designate/designation.

Some background on the case can be found in this article. The term resignate has been endorsed by Margaret Mitchell, Timnit Gebru's co-lead on the Google Ethical AI team before Gebru was resignated:

But is resignate a neologism, a brand new verb in English? I'd say yes. The Oxford English Dictionary does have an entry for resignate, labeled obsolete. But it glosses the verb simply as `resign', and it has just one example sentence, from 1692: "Their salvation is by faith, because sincere obedience is wrought in them.., and some call it the resignating act of faith."

Given the difference in meaning between `resign' in 1692 and `force to resign' in 2020, and given the fact that the super-diligent OED editors apparently couldn't find a pre- or post-17th-century example of the verb, I think the current verb is a new creation — probably based on the same analogic models as the 1692 example, but a repetition, not a continuation.


  1. jin defang said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 11:45 am

    I don't like this word, would never use it. There has to be a better way to combine the "resign" part with a section of a word that means "fired." As of now "forced resignation" will suffice, but it's clunky and unclever.

  2. chh said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 11:52 am

    The backformation explanation makes sense to me, but so does portmanteau with 'terminate'.

  3. Peter Taylor said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 12:02 pm

    given the fact that the super-diligent OED editors apparently couldn't find a pre- or post-17th-century example of the verb

    Or haven't revisited it since modern tools became available. A Google Books search restricted to the 19th century, and searching for "resignated" to avoid getting Latin and Spanish results, turns up plenty of hits. Many are mis-scans of "designated", or occasionally other words ("investigated", or a combination of two part-words from adjacent columns of text), but some appear to be genuine usages of "resignated".

    Examples from the legal field:

    Judge Bullett: I object to the question, because no points are resignated in the question.

    (from Records and Briefs of the United States Supreme Court, 1832; the meaning is not transparent to me);

    office to be vacated by resignated in writing addressed to Ld. Ch.

    (The Law and Practice of the Supreme Court of Judicature, Wynne E. Baxter, 1874 appears to be a typo for "resignation").

    Examples from fiction (although it seems to be mainly eye-dialect):

    "You see, when I resignated there was times. There were also some language, and things said as can't be unsaid."

    (from The Playactress, Samuel Rutherford Crockett, 1894; apparently synonymous with "resigned");

    I confess it with resignated humility, that …

    (The Bachelor's Budget, Coelebs the Younger, in the Ladies' Pocket Magazine, 1828);

    "I hope I am resignated."

    (Riches Without Wings, Mrs E. Little, in the Ladies Wreath: an Illustrated Annual for All Seasons, 1852); others omitted because I think the point is made.

  4. Peter Taylor said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 12:03 pm

    Oops, looks like I bodged closing one of my blockquotes. A preview feature would be nice.

  5. Yuval said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 12:15 pm

    Hebrew התפוטר /hitputtar/, meaning the same thing, has been in common use for decades and is known for ushering a whole new Binyan (verbal template) into the language, leading to several further productions since, like /hitnuddav/ for being forced to volunteer, and /hishtuddal/ for being forced to make an effort.

  6. Adam said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 12:20 pm

    Weird. I've never heard the term "resignate" – but the *concept* I've seen plenty of, especially in the Trump administration. I've always heard it referred to as being "quitfired", and never really thought about how much that might be in common usage or not.

  7. Y said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 1:45 pm

    It's like "to be volunteered" (and cf. Yuval's Hebrew example) in that it upends the volition implied in the verb root.

  8. Erin B. said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 2:42 pm

    From this morning's NPR piece, I understood that "having been resignated" is not the same thing as "having been forced to resign." Google claims that Timnit Gebru resigned, but in fact, she did not offer her resignation. Therefore, she wasn't forced to choose between resigning or be fired; she was fired, and Google chose to call it a resignation.

  9. Noam said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 2:44 pm

    I’ve seen “voluntold” for being forced to volunteer, but quit/resigned and fired can’t be merged (portmanteaud ?) so smoothly – “was firesigned”? Maybe “was resigned from company”, but “to be resigned” already has a separate meaning, at least with “to”.

    P.S. I was also just thinking about Yuval’s Hebrew analog, but he beat me to it.

  10. Noel Hunt said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 2:54 pm

    Isn't this the standard (I am tempted to say 'American') practice of forming euphemisms? Is Google likely to say it 'sacked' or 'forced to resign'?

  11. Vance Koven said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 3:22 pm

    I'm thinking that something with a "be-" prefix would suit, in the sense of making an essentially intransitive mood transitive, and at the same time properly directing the action. Since being fired is something done to the subject, a transitive way of putting it might be to say "the company bequit me."

  12. DaveK said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 4:43 pm

    I think the formal phase is “asked to tender their resignation”

    It reminds me of the line from John Kasich “I didn’t quit the Republican Party; the party quit me”

  13. LizA said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 5:34 pm

    Just to note that the post above cites the OED2 entry (substantially unchanged since 1908). The OED Third Edition entry for resignate, v. (at published in 2010 has four quotations ranging from 1531 to 1978. It is defined as "= RESIGN v. 1 (in various senses)" The entry for resign, v. 1 includes this definition at sense 1c: "To cause or (in later use esp.) compel (a person) to give up an office or position."

  14. Ken said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 5:39 pm

    I think an important part of this is the disagreement over who is responsible for ending the relationship. In the Google case, it feels like each party is saying the other is responsible.

    The opposite, with each side claiming it was their choice, is captured by the old comeback "You can't fire me — I quit!", which I think is what Adam meant by "quitfired" above.

  15. Daniel said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 5:46 pm

    From what I understand, Timnit Gebru gave an ultimatum for her to remain at Google, and Google accepted the ultimatum as a resignation since they knew they were unwilling to meet her conditions.

    I agree that this is a bit hardball, since she did not explicitly offer to resign, but her discontent with losing her position means that she did not truly mean her ultimatum. She was bluffing, and they called her on it.

    I think the most ethical employer response would be to explicitly let her know that her ultimatum will not be accepted and then give her the opportunity to either resign or reconsider her conditions. A fair warning.

    This incident reminds me of the story of a candidate for an assistant professor position at a PUI who tried to negotiate a higher startup package by proposing one much higher, and the university *withdrew* the offer, saying that the candidate must not be a good fit since it seems she wants to work at a research university and not a PUI.

    As for linguistics, I agree with Vance Koven about simply using "to be", as in "she was resigned from her position." Of course, this doesn't have the splash of coining a new word. The word "resignated" also has the advantage over portmanteaus that it is easily understandable while also sticking out.

    I'm also interested in what Yuval is saying about Hebrew. Is this just the H Causative stem, basically, equivalent to English "to be", or is it something more complex?

  16. Martin Schwartz said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 5:47 pm

    I'm sorry certiain of our contemporaries weren't "suicided".

  17. KevinM said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 6:41 pm

    Perhaps a Scwharzeneggerian overtone of termination – with the boss as "The Resignator."

  18. Anthony said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 6:54 pm

    Et resignatus est

  19. David Marjanović said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 8:26 pm

    Is this just the H Causative stem, basically, equivalent to English "to be", or is it something more complex?

    From what I've read about it, it mixes the ways the reflexive and the passive are formed, so you end up with portmanteaux of e.g. "he retreated himself from a position/office" and "he was removed".

  20. TR said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 8:34 pm

    Yes, it's a creative blend of two binyanim, reflexive hitCaCeC and passive CuCaC, into a new form hitCuCaC. Another example for Martin Schwartz is hit'ubad "be suicided".

  21. Robert said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 9:03 pm

    This reminds me of the time one of my colleagues at school told me he heard one of his students talking about "conversatin' "

  22. John Swindle said,

    December 19, 2020 @ 5:21 am

    Merriam-Webster discusses "conversating."

    I'm not sure "resignate" and "conversating" are good parallels, though. For one thing, although they appear to be formed in similar ways from "resignation" and "conversation," respectively, I can't quite hear "resignating" or "conversate."

  23. Michael Mahoney said,

    December 19, 2020 @ 10:30 am

    I have a term for the same phenomenon that I like even better:

    “She got quit.”

  24. Jon Weinberg said,

    December 22, 2020 @ 12:16 pm

    @Peter Taylor: In the first example you give ("no points are resignated in the question"), the word appears to have been a typographical error; the statement makes sense if we substitute "designated."

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