Sunday, September 20, 2009

Democrat vs. Democratic - and other observations

Sometime in the past two years or so, I suspect largely because the GOP made an issue of calling it the "Democrat" Party instead of the "Democratic" Party, news organizations suddenly seemed to adopt whole-hog the use of phrases such as "Democratic-controlled" instead of "Democrat-controlled" or "Democratically controlled."

I assumed it was the media once again shying away from anything having to do with the "other side," made my piece peace with it and abandoned teaching "Democrat-controlled," as it appeared to be out of fashion.*

(For the record, none of this is a political statement; I just happen to be of the mind that sometimes, when you can make the case that one usage has some grounding in common sense and clarity, you might consider sticking with it.)

So today, in an AP article about ACORN** and its problems, we have this:
Many Democrats used to advertise their ACORN connections. Now, however, the Democratic-led Senate has voted to cut off the organization’s grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Democrat-dominated House does not want it to get any federal money — period.
(I guess things really are different in the House and Senate.)
Yes, let's stipulate this is picking nits, but I think it's a nit worth picking. The House is dominated by Democrats, and the Senate is led by Democrats, not "Democratics." In fact, the problem with "Democratic" is illustrated in this recent query to AP's "Ask the Editor" (you'll probably have to search for "Democrat" to find it:

Q. Should it be "the Democratically controlled Senate" or "the Democratic-controlled Senate"? – from Los Angeles on Thu, Jan 08, 2009
A. The second usage is customary.
The tendency with "ic" adjectives, when paired with another adjective form, is to go with the "ically" form as the stronger grammatical construct of an adverb modifying an adjective. But "Democratically," notwithstanding the capital D, then starts for some people to implicate derivatives of "democracy" in the broader sense than the party. (If you want to read an impassioned, down-and-dirty, name-calling argument over this, check here.)

As for using "Democrat" to modify the modifier, we have numerous cases in English where the noun is used as a descriptive, so I'm not sure the declension is incorrect in this special case.

Let's think about a parallel using "robot." If the world were controlled by robots (OK, stop the comparison-with-journalists jokes), we might be more likely to say it was "robot-controlled" than "robotic-controlled," even though robotic is the adjective form. "Robotically-controlled" would actually be the better form, but it also has the connotation of something being controlled remotely from afar, not necessarily by robots.

A quick Google search of the terms (not dispositive, but enlightening), shows 168,000 entries for Democrat-controlled and 226,000 for Democratic-controlled. But the usage troubles me. (There are also 105,000 for Democratically controlled, but just eyeballing it, those appear to have a lot more white noise from entries referring to the form of government.)

So, what do you say?
*I seem to recall first seeing this in an AP "Ask the Editor" question a couple of years ago when Norm Goldstein ran the stylebook and the Democrat/Democratic Party debate was full-tilt, but I can't find the entry I printed at the time.

Three other things while I am at it:
1) From the same article: "ACORN chief executive Bertha Lewis" -- any reason she does not warrant having "chief executive" capitalized before her name?

2) Why do writers (and by extension desks) continue to use a comma with "and that" when the conjunctive phrase is used to link dependent clauses: The sheriff said Smith had escaped, and that his brother had helped? The sheriff said both things, so why separate with a comma. I argue against the comma in all but the longest and most convoluted phrases - in which case they probably should be separated by a period (or several).

3) Remember parallel constructions? From the ACORN article as edited in my local paper:

She condemned the actions of the two employees who appeared in the Brooklyn footage, but ACORN also has portrayed segments of such videos as manipulative smear tactics and blaming right-wingers "upset because they are out of power now." Try "blamed" instead.

But here's the original article:
She condemned the actions of the two employees who appeared in the Brooklyn footage, but ACORN also has portrayed segments of the video shot there and in other cities by the hidden-camera couple as manipulated to make it look bad.

Lewis on Friday said the attacks on the group are "really reminiscent of the McCarthy era."

"We understand that the Republican Party is upset and the right wing is upset because they are out of power now," Lewis said on New York City radio station WNYC.
So this editor was guilty not only of a grammatical error, but of being misleading since the edited version makes it sound as if the organization had issued a statement "blaming right-wingers."

So the correct edit would have been: She condemned the actions of the two employees who appeared in the Brooklyn footage, but ACORN also has portrayed segments of such videos as manipulative smear tactics, and Lewis blamed right-wingers "upset because they are out of power now."

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At 9/22/09, 12:57 PM, Blogger Wagenseller said...


Did you make your "piece" with it or your "peace" with it? I guess it depends on whether you wrote an article or not!

At 9/22/09, 1:05 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Aaaargh! You know, you go through something like this two or three times and catch a half-dozen mistypes -- but you just know there's going to be another.

That's why I need a dang editor on everything I write.

Thanks for the catch.

At 10/12/10, 4:22 AM, Blogger CompassionSensuality said...


Uh, speaking of nits, a small nit:

"So today, in an AP article about ACORN** and it's problems, we have this (...)"

As far as I know, "it's" (short for "it is") should be "its" within the context of what was written.

How do I know this?

Well, my father was a journalist and I majored in Journalism decades ago but I also dropped out of college and never became a journalist. So nobuddy'z perfekt :)

As far as the use of "Democrat" vs. "Democratic" as an adjective, the former feels like a Republican put-down to me. Maybe there is some "rat"-ish subliminal message in there somewhere. (I think I read that somewhere :)

That said...

Whenever a politician or pundit (with whom I am not familiar) uses it, I do have my suspicions that he or she is a Republican. I've yet to hear a Democrat -- or a seasoned media anchor or pundit -- use the "rat" version.

But then, hey, I'm biased.
I iz a Democrat :)

At 10/12/10, 9:53 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

I knew that. This one just got by.

Yet another reason we need eds.

Thanks for the catch.


At 10/12/10, 8:36 PM, Blogger CompassionSensuality said...

You're welcome. And pardon the :) overkill -- it was late, late, late at night.

As to typos slipping through, can't the originator of the opening article or blog simply edit the text at any time? That's been my experience in the few places I have scribbled some things in that form.

Maybe it depends on the various scribal e-platforms, i.e. Blogspot does or does not allow such editing after a certain time has passed (I don't know if it does or not).

At 10/12/10, 9:25 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Oh, I can always edit it - and I did so when you made the outpoint.

But I've got to see it first, LOL. That's what I mean by everyone needing an editor. I always appreciate a second set of eyes.


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