Show the respect you demand, Republicans: We’re the ‘DemocratIC’ Party
Unlike many who write for a living, I’ll never be a stickler for grammar, syntax or usage.
I’ll never qualify for the late language maven William Safire’s “Gotcha Gang,” or be a bow-tied, bespectacled pecksniff who loves to sniff out and peck at misuse or abuse of American English. Three reasons:
First, I went to state school on the GI Bill and I’m no writing expert, as readers can attest here.
Second, the English language is fluid and elastic, a melting pot of different foreign tongues that often have conflicting rules (see the fiery debate over “that” vs. “which”). So “correct” is in the eye of the beholder, and what teachers drilled into us may not be the word of the lord, thanks be to god. “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put,” Winston Churchill, a brilliant writer, supposedly snarked about the hoary rule.
Most of all, language pecksniffs expose their tender sensibilities to being pecksniffed, which is the college English major’s equivalent of an arm’s race and mutually assured destruction. As Morrissey croons in the old Smiths’ song “Cemetry Gates”, “there’s always someone, somewhere/with a big nose, who knows/and who trips you up and laughs when you fall.”
To wit: Lynne Truss, author of the bestselling “Eats Shoot & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” came under much disdainful and perhaps envious highbrow chortling for her audacity to succeed where they cannot in helping we unwashed common folk. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand, a Harvard English professor and National Humanities Medalist pecksniffed, “The first punctuation mistake appears in the dedication, where a nonrestrictive clause is not preceded by a comma. It is a wild ride downhill from there.”
I have no idea what a nonrestrictive clause is. But certainly — like most — I have my own language tripwires.
Like the rotting misuse of “impact” as a verb, a scourge intelligent people lost battling long ago.
The British Guardian newspaper’s style guide advises, “Say ‘affected’ rather than the awful jargon phrase ‘impacted on’. Only a tooth can be impacted.”
But like a dangerously infected British molar, it’s too late. “Impact” used commonly as a verb is just one of those chronic maladies we have to live with and keep on keeping on.
A similar searing pain occurs for me with the common use of “utilize” instead of “use”, or to hear “incentivize” or “incent”.
Being tortured by such Geneva Convention violations incents me to utilize a ball-peen hammer to impact the speaker’s forehead.
The internet, social media and texting have flipped the script on writing well, as many have kvetched.
To comment or text in complete sentences punctuated properly — as I seek to do — is to be regarded as a pathetic idiot or, redundantly, a coastal urban blue-precinct elitist Hillary-loving, Trump-hating snowflake clueless liberal.
On a separate front, having corporate clients means constantly dealing with — and correcting — business buzzwords. These include synergy, deep dive, core competency, bleeding edge, ideate, amplify, unpack, wheelhouse, deliverable, drill down, move the needle, ping, out of pocket and low-hanging fruit. “Incentivize” also made this list compiled by Inc., the business magazine and website.
Business buzzwords are my version of George Carlin’s dirty words you should never say. Or go ahead, use these terms if you want to sound like a complete d-bag and help colleagues bored with your droning and rolling their eyes but you help win at buzzword bingo.
But Inc. advises that while these buzzwords may grate on the nerves, since business leaders use them we should make an effort to work them into our work vocabulary if we want to get ahead.
I weep for Millennials who heed this advice, and for our destiny they’ll impact.
Which windingly leads me to the continuing misuse and abuse of American English that really sticks in my craw because it’s deliberate: When Republicans say the “Democrat Party” or “Democrat Congressman” or “Democrat President”.
Friends: It’s called the Democratic Party. Obama was our Democratic president. Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro Pelosi is the Democratic Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Chuck Schumer is the Democratic Senate Minority Leader.
It’s a matter of basic respect and decency to call the Democratic Party by its chosen name. Like calling your doctor “doctor”. When you don’t, or refuse, it’s a cheap, childish insult, a slur, either deliberate to incite, or plain ignorant.
Just this morning on NPR, Trump White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley, in defending the president’s choice of his personal physician Ronny Jackson to head the Veterans Administration, said the Navy admiral had served past U.S. presidents admirably, including “Democrat presidents”.
Maybe Gidley doesn’t know any better. As a Millennial rising through the Washington political ranks eagerly doing and parroting what he’s told, his disrespect might be unknowing or a slip of lip.
But if you think it’s Pecksniffian to call Gidley out, consider the backstory as explained by NPR back in the day, March 2010, when the Democratic Party held the presidency and the majority in both houses of Congress:
“Why, Republicans asked for years, should we allow the Democrats to get away with the adjective ‘democratic’?” wrote New York Times language maven William Safire in 1984. “As a result, partisan Republicans, especially those who had been head of the Republican National Committee, called the opposition ‘the Democrat party.’
“The habit was begun by Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey in 1940. According to Safire’s Political Dictionary, in 1955 Leonard Hall, a former Republican chairman, began referring to the ‘Democrat’ rather than the ‘Democratic’ party. Hall dropped the ‘ic’ because, he said, ‘I think their claims that they represent the great mass of the people and we don’t [are] just a lot of bunk.’”
Also, “The real sting in the use of Democrat as an adjective goes back to the virulent anti-Communist Wisconsin Republican, Sen. Joseph McCarthy,” NPR’s Ron Elvin explained. “And then in the 1980s, former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, revived the usage of Democrat Party.”
And so, like the verbing of “impact”, a new generation of Americans — especially of Republican bent — is saying “Democrat Party” or “Democrat Congressman” or “Democrat President” without knowing how disrespectful it is. Not realizing it’s a political smear, and jabbing the knife.
I really hope Hogan Gidley and his kind don’t mean to insult the loyal opposition, which our Founders wished we would always have for a more perfect democracy.
Otherwise, the Gidleys are deliberately perpetuating the descent of our national politics, with all the serious issues to address, into a childish and nasty prep-school brawl. Aren’t we better than that?
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer