New Usage of "Availability"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Feb 14 14:26:30 UTC 2008

On Thu, Feb 14, 2008 at 6:28 AM, Shapiro, Fred <Fred.Shapiro at> wrote:
> I haven't researched how old this usage is, but I notice on the following usage of "availability":
> * Mike Huckabee is in Wisconsin, where he attends rallies and hosts media availabilities in Madison,
> La Crosse, Rothschild and Green Bay.
> * John McCain holds a media availability in Burlington, Vermont, and a rally and media availability in
> Warwick, Rhode Island.

In his Oct. 8, 2000 "On Language" column, William Safire dates the
term to 1980, but Safire himself talked about "press availabilities"
in a 1979 column:

1979 William Safire _N.Y. Times_ (Magazine) 15 July 4/1 A few of my
colleagues in the Washington press corps bridle at the phrase "press
availability." According to a spokesman at Connally for President
headquarters, here is the meaning: A "press conference" begins with a
formal statement followed by questions; a "press availability," on the
other hand, means that there will be no opening statmement and the
candidate will throw himself immediately on the mercy of the press for
Q. & A.

Pres. Nixon and Gov. Reagan were the pioneers of the "press
availiability" in the early '70s. In its earliest form, the term was
not yet construed as a count noun:

1968 _Washington Post_ 22 July A16/5 The pattern from city to city is
the same [for Nixon] -- arrival in a chartered plane, the airport
greeting, "press availability" rather than a formal press conference,
off-the-record session with the editors of the leading paper,
reception for the delegates.
1970 _Progress-Bulletin_ (Pomona, Calif.) 6 Sep. 1/7 Reagan's schedule
shows the governor also at the San Jose airport at 10 a m, with "press

By 1972 "press availability" was countable:

1972 _Washington Post_ 1 Sep. A6/4 Scheduling of the [Nixon]
surrogates focuses on major or regional media centers, and each
stand-in is expected to have a "press availability" when he goes out
to speak.
1974 _Press-Telegram_ (Long Beach, Calif.) 3 June A8/3 Asked why he
was the only governor here holding two news conferences, Reagan said
"I was told that there was a request for press availabilities. I
thought I was here at your request."

And Canadian Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield was holding "(press)
availability sessions" around the same time:

1973 _Lethbridge Herald_ 22 May 21/1 An aide has finally cleared up
the difference between Mr. Stanfield's "news conferences" and "press
availability sessions" which have been features in his cross-Canada
tours. "A news conference is to deal with specific issues; and an
availability session is when he is available to answer any questions
reporters want to raise."

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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