"Democrat Majority": Offensive But Not Ungrammatical

George W. Bush, Politics

January 31, 2007

Roger Shuy (“-ic“) is not the only one who’s been talking about the president’s missing morpheme. At the start of Maura Reynolds’ article “The ‘Democrat majority’ is still the talk of the capital” in the Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2007, she asks:

Will President Bush put the “-ic” back in “Democratic”?

That was the hot topic around Washington on Monday after the president was asked why, during his State of the Union address last week, he referred to Congress’ new “Democrat majority.”

“That was an oversight,” Bush said in an interview Monday with National Public Radio. “I’m not trying to needle…. I didn’t even know I did it.”

Reynolds quotes various experts to establish that this is a deliberately offensive way to talk:

“It’s a long-standing intentional partisan political slight,” said Daniel Weiss, chief of staff to Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez). “It’s kind of like flashing colors in a gang. It’s code. It says, ‘I’m one of you, I’m a right-wing conservative.’ “

And experts on political locution say it’s a deliberate, if ungrammatical, linguistic strategy.

“The word ‘democratic’ has such positive emotional valence … so they politicize it to use it as a term to describe a group of political rivals,” said Roderick P. Hart, a professor of communications and government at the University of Texas in Austin.

“Democrat Party” is not common usage in Texas, Hart said, noting that the only people he had heard use it were “sitting Republican legislators.” [emphasis added]

“Intentional partisan political slight”, check. “Like flashing colors in a gang”, check. As Geoff Nunberg explained a couple of years ago (“Making the world safe for ‘democracy’“, 10/16/2004), this usage was pioneered in national politics by Herbert Hoover in 1932, and “became a Republican tic” in the 1950s. But what’s ungrammatical about it?

A few sentences later, Prof. Hart (who is dean of the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin) explains:

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