public spiritedness

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 6 16:25:43 UTC 2011

What might have changed is the parsing of the entire phrase. What he says it
used to be is "having the spirit of/for the public [good]". Now it is "being
spirited in public" because it resembles "public drunkenness". A simple
hyphen would fix this.


On Fri, May 6, 2011 at 11:41 AM, Dan Goncharoff <thegonch at> wrote:

> In a NYTimes Op-Ed piece dated May 5, 2011, David Brooks writes the
> following:
> "The first citizens of this country erected institutions to protect
> themselves from their own shortcomings. We’re familiar with some of
> them: the system of checks and balances, the Senate, etc. More
> important, they believed, was public spiritedness — a system of habits
> and attitudes that would check egotism and self-indulgence.
> As Kristol points out in the essay, the meaning of the phrase “public
> spiritedness” has flipped since the 18th century. Now we think a
> public-spirited person is somebody with passionate opinions about
> public matters, one who signs petitions and becomes an activist for a
> cause."
> Is he correct about the change in meaning of “public spiritedness”
> over time? Any idea when and why it changed?
> Thanks
> DanG

The American Dialect Society -

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