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.