You’re So Polarized You Probably Think This Column’s Political
One cannot live in this country without hearing the words “Democrat” and “Republican” bandied about every day.
(There’s no need to go on about small-d democracy or small-r republic because, although the Democrats and Republicans take their party names from those concepts, we all know that we’re living in a representative democracy—i.e., a republic. The only place where “pure” democracy is sometimes practiced in the United States is in town-hall meetings, usually in villages and small towns, where everyone has a say and participates in political decisions. But I’m not here to give you a civics lesson, just a grammar lesson.)
The Democrats have their Democratic items and ideals; the Republicans have their Republican thoughts and things.
In the last few years, however, some people (mostly Republicans) have been speaking about “Democrat” things—“Democrat agenda,” “Democrat candidate,” “Democrat party.”
Why is this incorrect (and perhaps not a little offensive)?
After all, some of us say, “I’m a Republican because I have Republican ideals and Republican values. If I can use the same word (Republican) as both noun and adjective, why can’t I do the same thing for Democrat? Are they better or more stuck-up than Republicans?”
Well, no, they’re not, but you still can’t use the same word for both Democrats and their beliefs, ideas, members, etc.
In English, words often do double duty as nouns and verbs or as nouns and modifiers (sometimes triple duty as all three). “Canadian,” “Mexican,” and “American,” are the names for the people who live in, respectively, Canada, Mexico, and the United States (i.e., America—of course we refer to the entire continent as our own). They are also the words for the things that come from these countries (Canadian hockey, Mexican food, American exceptionalism).
But just as often—perhaps more often—the noun and modifier forms of a word are different. For instance, aristocrats have aristocratic mien. (You like that word—mien? Feel free to borrow it.) Acrobats possess acrobatic skills. Plutocrats exhibit plutocratic greed. You wouldn’t say “aristocrat mien,” “acrobat skills,” or “plutocrat greed,” would you? (I hope not.)
Do you see a pattern here? I’m sure, as with everything else in English, there are exceptions to the rules I’m about to set forth, but it’s pretty clear that, for the most part (maybe for every part), modifiers of nouns that end in “an” take on the exact same form as their nouns, whereas modifiers of nouns that end in “at” require an additional “ic.”
I realize that, in a fast-track, short-hand nation, it’s really difficult to add syllables to words because it might take us a split second longer to utter them. (My solution? Just talk faster.)
And I know that Americans (and the British) have a penchant for abbreviating everything—such as “24-7” for “all day, every day” (wait a minute: those are both five syllables!—well, they are if you pronounce “every” as “ev’ry”), “POTUS” for President of the United States, “sci-fi” for science-fiction (and “Brexit” for “British exit [from the European Union]”). Some of these shortened versions are clever and useful (sci-fi); others are stupid and lazy.
But, going hand in hand with these abbreviations is the American habit of unnecessarily lengthening simple phrases and concepts, like saying “reference” for “refer to” (same amount of syllables) or, even shorter, “cite”; “ahead of” for “before”; “at this point in time” for “now”; “at that point in time” for “then”; and “she’s got a lot on her plate” for “she’s very busy.”
If we can waste time and words by using those longer phrases, then we can surely add an “ic” when it’s grammatically required. We don’t want to sound like ignoramuses, do we?
How much time out of your life does it take to add an “ic” to “Democrat” when you’re using the label as a modifier? And isn’t “ic” a good addition if you’re a person who thinks that Democrats are icky, anyway?
Thank you, and good day.
Anthony Ambrogio, firstname.lastname@example.org