January 23, 2003

On Reaching Consensus

One of Terry Gross’s guests on Fresh Air today was antiwar demonstration organizer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard. The interview was tedious, with Gross suggesting that the coalition led by her guest, International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), included what most Americans would consider the lunatic fringe, and Verheyden-Hilliard reacting indignantly (and at length) to the implication. I was not paying careful attention as she droned on, but, near the end of the interview, I turned suddenly toward my radio after Verheyden-Hilliard explained, “That’s what we have consensed on.”

I assume that what was meant was something like “That’s the consensus we reached,” or “That’s what we agreed to,” or simply “That was our consensus.” This last locution seems not to have a different meaning, and it has the advantages of being brief and of not turning heads in disbelief. One might argue, I suppose, that it emphasizes that which was agreed upon, rather than the agreement process, which was stressed in the original statement. Nonetheless, the need for Verheyden-Hilliard’s back-formation from “consensus” does not seem acute. Besides, “consensed” sounds too much like “condensed” or, perhaps, “incensed.”

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