Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Lesson in Grammar

Yeah, you read that right. A lesson in grammar.

I've always made fun of English majors-- let's face it, it's hard not to-- and most of the time, I can handle people using poor grammar. After all, language ought to be dynamic, allowing for changes in structure to reflect changes in culture.

What I will not accept, however, is deliberate misuse of grammar for political purposes. You might argue that this is probably the least important thing for me to criticize, and you might be right. Still, I feel the need to point it out.

In his "Weekly Wrap-Up" for February 16, Congressman Walberg begins with this:
This week Members of the House debated a non-binding resolution introduced by the Democrat leadership disapproving of the new strategy in Iraq. Sadly, the measure passed the House 246-182.
(Emphasis added.)

Now, there's a lot that's wrong with this "Wrap-Up," mostly centered around his framing of the war in Iraq-- he asserts, among other things, that the reason we're fighting in Iraq is that, if we don't, the terrorists will attack America. I don't even know where to begin with that.

But that will come in a different post. Instead, my problem today is with his "Democrat leadership" thing.

See, a Democrat is a person-- me, for example. It's a noun, defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows:
Function: noun
1 a : an adherent of democracy b : one who practices social equality
2 capitalized : a member of the Democratic party of the United States
See, it even says it right in there. It's a noun. It denotes a member of the Democratic party.

How about Democratic? Merriam-Webster says this:
Function: adjective
1 : of, relating to, or favoring democracy
2 often capitalized : of or relating to one of the two major political parties in the United States evolving in the early 19th century from the anti-federalists and the Democratic-Republican party and associated in modern times with policies of broad social reform and internationalism
3 : relating to, appealing to, or available to the broad masses of the people <democratic art>
4 : favoring social equality : not snobbish
The second definition there is a little lengthy, but here's what I get from it: "party" is the noun, as the political institution. "Democratic" is the adjective that indicates which party. And "Democrat" is the individual member. Together, "Democratic Party" and "Republican Party" form proper nouns-- the specific names of two less specific entities.

It can then be reasoned that "leadership," meaning Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, and others as a single entity, is a noun. To denote which leadership, one can use either "majority" or "minority," or, in this case the adjectives "Democratic" or "Republican."

Now, I really didn't need to go through all that. Everyone should understand the differences between nouns and adjectives, and "Democratic leadership" just sounds more natural. But I just wanted to emphasize the fact that I've got the dictionary on my side this time.

So why did Congressman Walberg use "Democrat leadership" instead? I'm certain he knows the difference-- he's a smart man. And he's also a very polished politician. At the Siena Heights debate last fall, he came across as a very articulate, very careful speaker, the sort that chooses his words very carefully.

And when he chose "Democrat leadership," I suspect he did so because of the very definitions I cited above. "Democratic" is a beautiful word that conjures images of peace, tranquility, and cooperation. It's why the name was chosen for the party early in the 1800s, and it links the candidate that carries the label with a host of positive ideals.

Of course, in politics, you never want that. You want your opposition to be as far away from positive ideals as possible. It's nothing new-- Wikipedia tells us that the phrase "Democrat party" has been used by some since 1890, including Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and everybody's favorite, Joe McCarthy. Recently, it was used by President Bush during the 2007 State of the Union Address, which caused quite a stir.

But the thing is, it's wrong. I can understand occasional mistakes, because I make them all the time. But the intentional misuse of a word for political purposes bothers me. It shows that Congressman Walberg and others who do this aren't interested in an honest debate and governing the country. They're interested in politics for the sake of politics.

If there actually are any English majors out there reading this, feel free to point out anything I got wrong (especially my grammar). I'm a math major, after all.

Labels: , ,

Nice post, Fitzy, but hey... don't be hatin' on my fellow English majors!
To illustrate your contention that Tim's use of the term 'Democrat' instead of 'Democratic' was incorrect, it was almost necessary to go into great detail regarding the difference of the two terms and to post the definitions--just in case some right-winger saw your comment and found all sorts of fault with it. But we, who follow this administration very carefully, know that it has been their purposeful intent to demonize the Dems by leaving off the last two letters of the word. I think it was David Gregory who finally brought it to the attention of Mr. Snow (I can hardly bear to type his last name, let alone his first) and George wound up apologizing for misusing the term. He just didn't realize he was doing it and for the record, he wasn't aware it was offensive.


Nothing those neo-cons and their lemming followers do is without meaning so you really didn't have to apologize for being upset with Mr. Walberg's statement (notwithstanding, his support of the troop surge). We all know where he gets his marching orders and he thought it was sort of cool--you know--sort of playing up to the bigshots in D.C. by saying, "Hey, look at me. I can say Democrat just like you all can".

Using phrases like "Democrat leadership" is an old rhetorical tactic by the GOP. President Bush used it in his most recent State of the Union.
I've noticed that this practice has dropped off a bit coming from higher ups in the GOP. However, it's not too surprising that Wacko Wally is behind the times. He still is stuck in the 19th century after all.
It might be insulting, but it's not ungrammatical. Nouns modify nouns.
dog house
ice cream
Labour Party
President Bush
Insightful post. Personally I think the only way to combat the phrase "Democrat Party" is to universally agree to employ its counter, the phrase "Republic Party." But it's probably not worth the effort and would make Democrats look as silly as the Republicans who can't seem speak grammatically.

Evidently use of the phrase can be tracked back to Warren G. Harding. You might be interested in the article on the phrase written by Hendrik Hertzberg and published in the August 7, 2006 New Yorker, available online at
(The URL from the New Yorker didn't seem to print fully above. You may have to cut and paste the following:


after the .../articles/ in the full URL. Sorry!)
Walberg speaks in tounges. It is not that much of a stretch to think that his staff would misspell a word or two.
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