“It’s just an extremely progressive agenda that does not sit well with me or my upstate constituency.”
-Thomas O’Mara of the NYS Senate on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, as quoted in “Cuomo Says His Course is Moderate” by Joseph Spector, Democrat and Chronicle (January 11, 2013)
progressive (adj.) – Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods.
-The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th edition (2004)
We all say stupid things sometimes. I have been quoted way, way too many times in publications in ways that make me sound less intelligent than I would prefer to sound to be criticizing other people’s quotes, but when I read Senator O’Mara’s bit in the D&C yesterday, I actually laughed out loud, because one way to look at what he is saying there is that his district is full of people who don’t want the world to get better. He’s not saying that they are specifically against the world changing in the ways Governor Cuomo mentioned in his address. No, these people are against progress itself.
Incidentally, Senator O’Mara’s district includes Ithaca, home of Cornell University, which perhaps some of you have heard of. Also my friend eisha lives there, and last I knew she was completely in favor of the world sucking less.
When you get right down to it, O’Mara is actually complimenting Cuomo’s policies because the implication behind the word progressive is that whatever’s going on is leading to a positive outcome (you know, PROGRESS). Of course, that isn’t what O’Mara meant, and we all know it’s not what he meant. He meant something more like socially liberal, but he’s not the only person who’s come to use progressive this way. I think it’s like a game of telephone: one politician who didn’t mind sounding crazy started railing against progressives one day and then this language got copied and copied and copied until political types started spewing it as just another word without actual meaning in pointless conversations.
It’s okay to make mistakes with language. It’s okay to sometimes say things we don’t mean. All humans do. But it’s the disregard for even trying to think or make sense or say something meaningful and original that makes me tired. It reminds me to try not to do this myself, not to be so lazy with my diction. And also to have a point.
And while we’re on the subject of usage, about half the English-speaking world needs to look up the difference between ensure and insure, because the rampant misuse of those words is starting to irritate me.