Thursday, January 27, 2005

Democrat vs. Democratic

Is it the Democrat Party or the Democratic Party?

A reader wrote in to Ruth Walker (who writes the Verbal Energy blog):
One of my pet peeves is that the media call the Democrat party "democratic." But they don't call the Republican party "republicanistic." Nor do I want them to do so!
(Sigh)

Walker writes that the distinction is important to her, too, but she leans the other way.
But my peeve is not that so many in the media speak of the "Democratic Party" but rather that not enough do. I hate to disappoint a reader, but with a few exceptions "Democratic Party" is the right phrase.
She chalks it up to our losing our inflections, our tendency to modify nouns with other nouns instead of with adjectives. (And I really like her example of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Today, she says, it would probably be known as the France-Prussia War. I think she's right.)

This reminded me of a commentary of Geoff Nunberg's I read recently (from "Fresh Air" last week). He discusses the changes the word "Democrat" has undergone since we borrowed it from the French during the French Revolution, "when democrat was opposed to aristocrat, and the idea of "rule of the people" could evoke the alarming echoes of tumbrils in the streets."

But now that most Americans are so entrenched in democracy, there is little need for us to refer to ourselves as little-D democrats. Nunberg writes:
The big-D sense of Democrat persisted, of course, but only as the name of a political affiliation that had no more independent meaning than old party names like Whig and Tory. That's what allowed the Republicans of Hoover's era to start referring to their opponents as the Democrat Party. The point of the maneuver was to suggest that there was nothing particularly democratic about a party whose support was based in urban political machines. But Republicans couldn't have gotten away with it if the earlier meaning of democrat hadn't already faded from the public mind.
Walker mentions the Democrat-ribbing aspect of "Democrat Party," as well. But she notes that the story can't end there: Even some local chapters of the Democratic Party are referring to themselves as the Democrat Party. Hence, her note on inflections.

24 Comments:

At 11:29 AM, September 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Nicole,
I know this is an old post, but I read it with interest.
I have heard Rush Limbaugh explain his use of "Democrat" over "Democratic" as stemming from his belief that the party has nothing to do with democracy. The justification sounds typically sophomoric of him, but still I suspected the idea was not orginal with him. Your column's mention of the same rationale going back to the time of Hoover comfirms it. Thanks.

 
At 3:28 AM, January 10, 2007, Anonymous EricTN said...

I too am commenting on an old post. I am absolutely convinced that it is primarily those not of the Democratic party that insist on calling it "The Democrat Party". And without question, they HATE the fact that "The Democratic Party" instills and underlying feeling (whether appropriate or not) that the party to their left is "more democratic" (small d). They don't want that subliminal message going out there, because it works at cross-purposes to their purpose which is to promote themselves, not others.

 
At 2:20 AM, January 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your discussion on this issue is relevant today. In Bush's state of the union speech, he referred to the Democratic Party as instead the "Democrat Party". Its an intentional strategy by Republicans.

 
At 7:27 AM, January 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush's prepared speech had it written as "Democratic", yet he spoke it as Democrat. It's a widely known insult in politcs to refer to the democratic party as the democrat party.

 
At 4:22 PM, January 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The analogy for the Republican Party wouldn't be to call them the "Republicanistic" party, but the Republic Party, which sounds as equally moronic as the Democrat Party.

 
At 11:18 AM, February 01, 2007, Anonymous Cicero said...

This is typical PC palabra. What person describes their political party affiliation as "Democratic" or Republicanistic?"
Liberal voters refer to themselves as Democrats, not Democratics. Why should they be offended when Republicans refer to them as Democrats? To appease Liberals we must engage in linguistic gymnastics in order to accommodate the assertion that even though Liberal voters are registered "Democrats," they must never be referred to as such and will only accept the term "Democratic." Where in any publication, peridocial or PC play book is there a sentence where a Liberal proclaims, " I am a registered Democratic?"

 
At 2:55 PM, February 01, 2007, Blogger Nicole said...

Cicero, you definitely miss the point. The noun is Democrat. It's the adjective that's Democratic.

A Democrat belongs to the Democratic Party. No liberal linguistics involved in that.

 
At 4:58 PM, February 01, 2007, Anonymous Cicero said...

nicole,

So this is question about grammar, not whether the missing "ic" turns the word "Democrat" into some sort of pejorative when used in conjunction with "Party?" That is not the impression I got from the previous posters. On Diane Rehm's NPR show today she was apoplectic that Frank Luntz, her guest, didn't consider leaving off the "ic" of "Democrat" an insult.

Considering Rehm's political ideology, her objection was not based on principles of a grammarian.

 
At 8:44 PM, December 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since it is capitalized "Democratic" party
I would guess then it is a proper adjective like a proper noun? -- just an engineer's perspective

 
At 6:12 PM, April 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any word can be both a noun and
an adjective. I can call my son
Hansome.

 
At 10:41 PM, June 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is correct to say "Democratic" when the word is used as an adjective, and "Democrat" when used as a noun. For a political party that's forever beating the "English-only" drum, the Republicans sound terribly ignorant when they substitute a noun for an adjective. But then George Bush often speaks as if English were his second language...

 
At 12:34 PM, September 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it is really the "Democrat Party" it would say "Democrat" on the voting ballots. The names of the parties are on the ballots. Don't the parties control there own names as shown on the ballots?

 
At 10:17 PM, October 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Democrats are as much "Democratic" as they are "Progressive". Let's use the right terminology here. JFK is spinning in his grave right now

 
At 11:30 AM, February 02, 2009, Blogger PRS in Boise said...

Just to keep this controversy alive--
this morning (2/2/09) our local NPR news reporter referred to Walt Minnick, newly elected ID Congressman, as our "Democrat legislator." I immediately called the station to protest. (Of course, since Minnick used to be a Republican, likes the way the U.S. Supreme Ct. is constituted, esp. when they're voting on gun rights, & so far has voted w/ his Republican colleagues, one wonders how much of a Democrat he actually IS. But anyway--). Those commenters who want to coin some such word as "Republicanistic" are missing the point. There are a number of nouns ending in "crat," which means "rule"--e.g., bureaucrat, autocrat, theocrat. One wd not refer to a "bureaucrat maze," "autocrat power," or (as in Iran after 30 yrs), "a theocrat state." The adjective in each case--"bureaucratic," "autocratic," "theocratic," comes naturally to the tongue (& pen & keyboard). Why, then, do certain commenters (I hate the word "commentators"--there is no such verb as "commentate")have to resort to "Democrat campaign," etc.? Besides the reasons already mentioned, this usage places the word "rat" next to the noun. So we have "rat campaign," "rat legislation," etc. As a Democrat & a retired English teacher, I am DOUBLY insulted by this usage, which I suppose is often (tho' not always) the purpose behind it.

 
At 3:23 AM, February 04, 2009, Blogger gfutfy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 2:25 PM, February 11, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those who use Democrat Party, are doing so as a slur. It is that simple. Any amount of justification or semantic gymnatics to the contrary.

 
At 2:01 AM, August 27, 2009, Anonymous Leonard said...

There is also an historical component to this. The present-day Democratic Party began as a Congressional caucus in 1792 with its founding by Thomas Jefferson. It developed through the early years of the country as the Democratic-Republican Party unti 1828 when Andrew Jackson became the country's first Democratic president. These two presidents are considered the founders of the party. Those who call it the Democrat Party are both grammatically and historically ignorant or just being childishly mean in calling names because they are short of valid political arguments.

 
At 12:26 AM, October 14, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pollsters and focus group research has shown that the term "Democrat Party" is only offensive to the more politically active members of the Democratic Party. This is reason enough, right here, to stop being offended. They only use the phrase because they know it drives Dems nuts. So just don't allow it to get to you. If we all stopped being offended by it, they would find no more fun in using it. Then they might have to come up with more than just a cheap shot.

 
At 11:54 PM, January 09, 2010, Blogger Stephen said...

Are you a registered Democratic, if so two or more are Democratics.
I am a registered Democrat and my girlfriend and I are Democrats. We live in a republic which has a democratic system of voting. Calling ones self democratic is a ploy to somehow sounding as though you are more american than others, which is a gross misuse of the term democratic. However the Repugnants and Dumocrats alike are neither Democratic or American, they are financial facist pigs, and only care about getting reelected, democratically or not.
Why use correct engish in such a discussion!

 
At 6:03 PM, August 12, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently looking for the answer -- which is not based on grammar but rather on Official Registration of the Party with the Government... which should be either 'Democrat Party' or 'Democratic Party'.

 
At 12:08 PM, August 13, 2010, Blogger Most Happy Girl said...

Okay, I’m weighing in here as a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in English. When stating the name of a political party, you would use the proper noun for the full name, i.e., the Democrat Party, because Democrat is PART OF THE NAME and not a description of Party, which is when you would use an adjective. I suppose the real issue is what the party calls itself. Does it refer to itself as the Democratic Party, the Democrat Party, or both? And if it uses the two interchangably, then why complain when their opponents do as well?

 
At 12:11 PM, August 13, 2010, Blogger Nicole said...

The proper name of the party is the Democratic Party. Its members are Democrats. And they don't use the name interchangeably.

http://www.democrats.org/

 
At 3:16 PM, September 03, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I hear the name Demoncratic, the first thing I see is (demon)

 
At 3:27 PM, September 03, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Republicans use Democrat because they don't believe that "Democratic" is an accurate description of the Party. Somehow I think the Dems would come up with something else to call the Republicans if the renamed their party, "The True American Party". Charlie Schumer: "I'm against the True American way of doing things."

 

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