Grammar check – is relatable a real word?

Yes, it is, but the meaning has changed. The word relatable used to mean that something could be told or that it was connected to something else. Now, it usually describes a situation in which someone has a personal connection to something.

Merriam-Webster defines relatable as:

  1. able to be shown or established to have a causal or logical connection to something
  2. able to be related to : possible to understand, like, or have sympathy for because of similarities to oneself or one’s own experiences

Relatable is all over the media. Every show, book, movie, news story, tweet or post is relatable to someone. And this isn’t anything new, just something I’ve been thinking about lately.

Professors and high school teachers have bemoaned its overuse and some say that students need to pay attention to things that are not relatable so they can understand them better.

For more information, read Ben Zimmer’s 2010 New York Times article in which he explains the origins of the word, and Rebecca Onion’s 2014 article in Slate, where she says the word’s overuse bothers her. Me? I’m not bothered by it. It may be a lazy way of saying you get something, without explaining why, but it’s an otherwise nice word—and that’s relatable!

What’s your opinion on relatable?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

19 thoughts on “Grammar check – is relatable a real word?

  1. What’s bugged me for the last few years is the use of “be that…” in stead of “whether it’s” – be that sounds so superior. Have no idea why it caught on.

  2. As prickly as I tend to be about grammar flubs and word violations, I remain entirely untroubled by the use of “relatable.” This appears to be an issue to which I am not . . . relatable. 🙂

  3. I have learned to accept the evolution of language; e.g. reiterate for just one repeat; relationship now limited to a sexual one. My current bugbear is the extraneous ‘of’ as in ‘all of’, ‘off of’. I guess I will soon give up moaning about it.

  4. Somehow, I’ve missed the overuse, but now that I’ve read your post, I’m sure I’ll hear it frequently. I found the teachers’ comment interesting, because I think that the present-day mass mentality is that when something is relatable, it’s positive, which then leads to something not-relatable being negative.

    1. That’s a great point – I use relatable fairly often, but I understand how it’s become a quick way of talking about something without really thinking about it. And the point of something that is non-relatable is therefore negative is also the trend – better to try to understand something. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Karen.

  5. Very interesting! I’m glad to learn about the original meaning of the word — makes so much sense. I’ve seen relatable used a lot in book reviews to mean someone who’s likeable, but that can sometimes bother me — we should be able to feel for characters even if we don’t like them!

    1. Thank you, Robbie. I started thinking about it because I recently used “relatable” in a post and WordPress highlighted it as not being a word. MS Word, however, recognizes relatable. I don’t use it a lot, but now I see it everywhere!

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