Word of the Week: Extrapolate

Word: extrapolate

Pronunciation: ik-STRA-pə-layt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: extend the application of (a method or conclusion) to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

I’m going with a more scientific word this week. Though I rarely see it in fiction, the word “extrapolate” does come up in a lot of the academic papers I read. It’s a verb that defines a practice many scientists adopt: to draw conclusions about unknown situations based on data previously collected from similar scenarios. Think of it as a fancy word for “guesstimate”. It may not sound very scientific when you put it like that, but it’s immensely helpful when constructing theories, and you’d be surprised how often we rely on this method to make sense of the world around us.

To “extrapolate” information is to extend it to theoretical scenarios in order to estimate potential results, based on the assumption that the same methods will continue to be applicable in similar situations. The word is a combination of the Latin preposition extra “outside” and a shortened form of the verb “interpolate” (“insert between fixed points”). The latter word contains the root verb polire, which means “to polish”.

You’d probably get the most use out of “extrapolate” if you write a lot of scientific language; in mathematics, for instance, it indicates the extension of data by inferring unknown values from existing trends. In fiction, it may work as a partial synonym for “estimate”, though this would likely still depend heavily on context. I don’t recall reading the latter use very often, but it’s your call whether “extrapolate” can work as a suitable verb in your stories. You may never use it for your own writing, but at least now you’ll know what it means if you ever happen to read a scientific article!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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