Has "congressman" ALWAYS meant "representative, not senator"?

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 2 15:53:41 UTC 2010

When I initially sent a comment on the original query, I mentioned that
I've heard the plural referring to groups consisting of members of both
chambers, but I did not cite any specific examples. Since then, I've
thought about possibilities of narrowing the search pattern and came up
with this:

> The second group that helped Singapore’s outreach effort was the
> Congressional Caucus were made up of *Congressmen from both the Senate
> and House* of Representatives, who would help the Singapore government
> persuade their follow congressmen to vote for the FTA.

[Note that the above is from a Google transcription of a Word document.]

> On their way to the Blair House to meet with *Congressmen from both
> chambers* and the President himself for the eventual seven and a half
> hour-long debate, some asked their followers what they wanted to be
> brought up, and others, like John McCain, put their game faces on: :
> "on my way to the health care summit at the White House--let's start
> over Mr. President."

> Late last year, the House and Senate each passed its own version of
> ObamaCare. Normally, these bills would go to a "conference committee,"
> at which selected *congressmen from both chambers* would iron out the
> differences between them, producing a "conference report"--a single
> bill that would become law after both chambers approve it and the
> president signs it.

> What is most likely going to happen is that the Senate Bill will go to
> a "Conference Committee". This would mean that *a select group of
> Congressmen from both chambers* would meet once AGAIN "behind closed
> doors" in an attempt to reconcile both bills in to one MASSIVE bill.

> Congressmen from Both Chambers constitute Committees (about 16 in the
> Senate, about 20 in the House of Reps.)

> The battle over the final version of the bill is set to begin in
> January after the holiday recess, when Congressmen from both houses
> will begin the tough and dirty work of consolidating the two massive
> legislative tomes.

> After that he met with twenty congressmen from both houses and drafted
> a new tariff bill.

> One change to reduce or eliminate nontransparent lobbying is to have
> *all congressmen from both houses* have open forum websites where you
> submit your wants with petition drives or open votes.

> The evils of the spoils system, in which *Congressmen from both
> houses* played an unenviable part, the unwillingness of the
> Administration to accept war as a probability or to stand out against
> an apportionment of military offices among mere politicians when there
> were trained soldiers kept in idleness, the favoritism in the navy
> which has led to such unnecessary wrangling and dispute,— these are
> matters for the dispassionate hand of time to set down without fear
> and without malice.

Unlike the preceding citations, which are all from the last decade and
most from 2010, the last on is from a 1899 book. Another is from 1961
Jet magazine:

> Rep. Powell, chairman of the House Labor and Education Committee, will
> direct congressmen from both the House and Senate in settling
> difference over bills each passed.

What is odd about nearly all these citations (and many more) is that
they refer to the formation and work of Conference committees that, by
design, include members from both chambers. The language, however, is
not limited to official government documents and press releases, but
also appears in books, magazines, blog posts and comments and even in
the WSJ. So, even though most such references appear in a particular
context, they are not isolated. And the frequency of /this/ context,
compared to other contexts, makes sense--aside from the joint sessions
of Congress for, say, presidential addresses, this is the only context
that /requires/ that members of both chambers be present. So the issue
is not so much that we've defaulted to "congressman"=="representative",
but that there are so few occasions where there may be any need to
address Senators as "Congressmen". And it is because of this perceived
infrequency that we put up a wall against including Senators in the

Mike Oliver's view that you cited in VT makes perfect sense (at least to

> A more nuanced view, posted by Mike Oliver, is that although the
> plural congressmen can include senators, as it did in Maass's example,
> the singular /congressman/ will always refer to a representative,
> "except in the rather unlikely case that you know he's in one of the
> houses but you don't know which."

But the restriction is pragmatic, not lexical. The title of /Senator/,
is higher on the honorific scale than a mere /Congressman/--in the same
way that the Speaker of the House is nearly always addressed as "Mr.
Speaker" (in Congress) or "Speaker X" (by interviewers) rather than
"Congressman". So, when confronted with an individual Senator, there is
simply no need to refer to one as /Congressman/, save for the proviso
that Oliver mentions. But such uninformed encounters are so infrequent
that they may well be be considered null.

"Representative", on the other hand, is not merely an "officious" word,
but an awkward quintisyllabic word (as you suggested, with an unstressed
[pr] cluster) where three syllables can do quite nicely. And you did
mention /all/ these factors. Yet, we do occasionally hear
"Representative" as a form of address during interviews and discussions
on Sunday morning news shows.


On 11/2/2010 7:57 AM, Neal Whitman wrote:
> On Visual Thesaurus: http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/dictionary/2473/
> and on the blog:
> http://literalminded.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/senators-representatives-and-congressmen/
> Thanks to everyone who responded to my query!
> Neal Whitman
> Email: nwhitman at ameritech.net
> Blog: http://literalminded.wordpress.com

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list