public spiritedness

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Fri May 6 18:07:44 UTC 2011

Of course, by one interpretation "public spiritedness" could be synonymous with "public drunkenness."


From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of victor steinbok [aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Friday, May 06, 2011 12:25 PM

What might have changed is the parsing of the entire phrase. What he says i=
used to be is "having the spirit of/for the public [good]". Now it is "bein=
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=92re familiar with some of
> them: the system of checks and balances, the Senate, etc. More
> important, they believed, was public spiritedness =97 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 =93public
> spiritedness=94 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 =93public spiritedness=94
> over time? Any idea when and why it changed?
> Thanks
> DanG

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