Republican Manners and the Democrat Party

This blog though it has its enthusiasms and gets a bit carried away, also tries to be civil and polite to those it disagrees with, though it also mocks extremists in all forms. I liked this little piece in The Economist magazine on political manners:

What’s wrong with the “Democrat Party”

SOME conservative Americans continue annoying Democrats by calling their party the “Democrat Party”, and using “Democrat” in other modifying positions like “the Democrat Senate.”  Rush Limbaugh, every liberal’s least favourite conservative, said yesterday that

You’ve got to understand that everything there, I don’t care, Washington Post, New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, LA Times. It’s all oriented toward two things: advancing the Democrat Party and whoever runs it — in this case, Barack Obama — and, at the same time, defeating, embarrassing and humiliating the Republicans and conservatives.

Annoyed liberals frequently respond with some version of “Democrat is not an adjective.” In this version of the complaint, the problem is grammatical ignorance: the party must be called “the Democratic Party”, because “Democratic” is the adjective needed. It is correct in the argument that “Democrat” isn’t an adjective. It’s wrong in arguing that the “Democrat Party” is ungrammatical.

That’s because this complaint ignores a basic fact: nouns are used in modifier position all the time. People wake up and shut off their alarm clock, walk down the hall stairs, turn on their coffee maker, cook an egg using an egg timer, shave in the bathroom mirror, but on their business suit, grab their car keys and so on. Alarm, hall, coffee, egg, bathroom, business and car are all nouns. (You can tell they haven’t become adjectives because you can’t say “That timer is egg.”)  You’ve almost certainly used a noun-noun compound today. That nouns are often even used to modify “party” can be seen in the names of the Labour Party, the UK Independence Party, the Constitution Party and many others, as Mark Liberman explained in 2007.

The real reason “Democrat Party” is wrong is not because it’s ungrammatical, but because it’s incorrect in another way—the party is simply not named the Democrat Party, but the Democratic Party. Calling it anything else is discourteous. Individuals and institutions may choose their names; this is a basic agreement among users of language in our society. If you’ve made it clear to me you want to be called “Mike”, I don’t have the right to call you “Mick” or “Jerkwad”, unless I don’t mind being called unprintable things by everyone else for being deliberately annoying.

Advice to Democrats: this is the behaviour of attention-seeking children. Ignore it.

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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