Two Stories of Linguistic Foolery

by Categorized: Politix, Words and phrases Date:

McCarthy Cohn
My day began with an annoying email, and I was not yet fully caffeinated.

Someone named Jim Macdonald wrote to “correct” the headline and perhaps other usages in today’s column.  He wrote

It’s the “Democrat” machine, not Democratic.

I am familiar with this particular form of silliness. Limbaugh does it a lot. I was not familiar with the allegation that Tailgunner Joe McCarthy invented it. The whole idea is not to let Democrats use the word “Democratic” about themselves. I tried to explain to Mr. Macdonald why this was a time-wasting argument, and he wrote back.

Since this is a republic, not a democracy, why do you want to call Democrats, democratic?    Democrat is a party, democratic is a word.
They want us to believe that they are more governmental and generic.

Sigh. Let me try again. Mr. Macdonald does not know what proper nouns and adjectives are. I considered illustrating this with his own name. Let us imagine that I believed the only proper rendering of his name was MacDonald. I would still have no right to render his name as I saw fit. His name is a proper name. It can’t be tampered with. Similarly, Democratic National Convention, Democratic Party, Democratic Town Committee are all proper names. One cannot (reasonably) change them to suit one’s purposes. The distinction, Mr. Macdonald, is not between “Democratic” and “Democrat” but between “Democratic” and “democratic.”

Also, “Democrat” is not really a viable adjective. The only reason to use it that way is to score points. Which is fine. But then don’t tell me I’ve erred by not adopting your practice.

A useful parallel might be “catholic” and “Catholic.” The first is a word with a meaning. The second is a proper noun and/or adjective. Even if I think the Roman Catholic church is not catholic, I am not not allowed to start calling it something else or twisting its form around to better suit my truth.

———————

To prove I am nonpartisan about these matters, let me point out a faulty usage from a Democrat. The state Democratic Central Committee sent out a stupid email to rally the troops. It’s so bad that I’m going to need a separate post  to try and convict it, but one infelicitous line clanked against the (symbolic and cymbalic) eardrums. “[Trump’s] brand has risen him to the top of the polls …”

The writer — allegedly state chairman Nick Balletto but actually some tin-eared minion — has missed the rise/raise distinction. Or does not know how to conjugate “raise.” The zombies have risen from the dead, but Trump’s brand has raised him to the top of the polls, not that I would willingly write that particular sentence. Perhaps: “Trump’s steady expulsion of hot air has had the peculiar effect of making him rise in the polls.”

I hope this helps.

 

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