[Ads-l] More on "liberal"

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Sat Jan 3 05:30:22 UTC 2015

I talked about some of this in a 2003 article in the American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/liberal-label) and in particular in a Fresh Air piece in 2006 (http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~nunberg/progressives.html), which concluded:

"When Berkeley professors or social activists use the progressive label among themselves, it's the political equivalent of a fraternity handshake -- they know that it's meant to convey their ideological purity, rather than  simply to conceal their Volvo ownership.  But those nuances are apt to be lost on Americans who have no idea that the word Progressive ever wore a capital letter -- people who not only haven't heard of Walter Lippman or Robert Lafollette, but who are probably a little cloudy on Phil Ochs, too. For them, the P-Word is simply a way of avoiding saying the L-Word, which is the term everybody else uses for the left-hand pole of American politics, etched on the split screens of the cable talk shows. It seems to confirm the suspicion that liberals don’t talk the same language as other Americans, even when it comes to pronouncing their own name right….

Progressives will tell you in all sincerity that they're not out to trash the liberal label, and insist that their differences with liberals are fundamentaly philosophical, not stylistic, even if it isn't easy to put your finger on what they are. The irony is that nowadays it's chiefly that insistence alone that divides the two. The difference between progressives and liberals is that progressives believe that there is one."

That was ten years ago, but I don’t know that much has changed in the interim. 


> From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Re: More on "liberal"
> Date: January 2, 2015 at 2:20:31 PM PST
> You are correct. I noticed the irony as well. Socialists and Communists
> described themselves as "progressives," both as a euphemism and to
> distinguish themselves from supposedly smug, feckless, and gullible
> "liberals."
> JL

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

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