November 9, 2012

Two Language Observations

1. Outreach

I was listening to a radio interview of a couple of Republican Party operatives who were addressing the question of whether and how the party might have to change to perform better in elections. (This is the season of speculation about what went wrong in the recent presidential election. The obvious answer, of course, is bad candidate, bad policies, and bad supporters. But I digress.) One of the speakers said that the party needs “to outreach to minority communities.” This is a decidedly odd use of outreach as a verb, and it illustrates the ongoing jargonization of American English. Why not simply say that the Republican party needs “to reach out to minority communities”?

2. Democrats

In the same segment, I heard something that drives me crazy. It has become almost universal for representatives of the Republican Party to refer not to the Democratic Party but to the Democrat Party. One of the interviewees did that on the radio today. This usage is simply wrong. The name of the party of Barack Obama is not the Democrat Party, but the Democratic Party headed by the Democratic National Committee. How would Republicans feel if Democrats consistently referred to the Republic Party?

Why do Republicans do this? I think it is because democratic evokes strong positive emotions in Americans in a way that republican does not. And Republicans have adopted a take-no-prisioners attitude toward the opposition party. Apparently, it has not occurred to Republican leaders that, rather than indulging in casual, mean-spirited name-calling, they might attract more adherents by becoming a party of reasonable people who are at least as interested in good governance as they are in winning elections. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

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