Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Grammar Police: Volunteerism vs. Voluntarism

Accuracy is one of the cornerstones of solid journalism.

And with that accuracy comes the stalwart, resolute fact that you absolutely know something. You have concrete evidence to justify your statement. You have expert testimony that underscores your report.

You have gospel.

Me? I have Merriam-Webster.

The misuse of words and phrases absolutely drives me batty. I especially hate it when I notice "official" messaging like mission statements and brand messaging littered with made up words.

Like volunteerism.

It sounds oh, so, believable. To tag on an -ism is a reasonable assumption, right? That's how so many other English-language words operate.

But in this case, we would be fatally wrong to make that assumption. Okay, Grammar Girl isn't going to slay you with her red pen, but to go with volunteerism is a bad, bad choice.

When we talk about the act of volunteering (read: when we turn the verb into a noun), the word gets converted into voluntarism. Yes, this sounds totally funny, and was foreign to me, too, until I joined a non-profit organization with a heavy concentration on... voluntarism.

Granted, volunteerism may be listed in your copy of the dictionary; it's in mine. But this collegiate dictionary clearly defers to voluntarism in its first reference.

Since I learned the correct usage, I see the proper choice in more respected publications... and I see volunteerism in places it doesn't belong.

Including official mission statements.
Bonus anal comment: Friends, it is not SITC. It is SATC. HBO created a program that celebrated Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte's amorous antics AND the lovely city of New York. The series/movie is not about them having sex *in* NYC... they were quite successful at gettin' it on no matter the location. Keep that in mind as you exclaim your excitement leading up to the May 27 release.

Whew. Who put a nickel in me today?

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


TGirsch said...

My peeve is the express lane for "15 items or less." Argh! It's /fewer/ items.

Fewer = not as many
Less = not as much

You'd never say, "I have not as much items," so you should never say "I have less items," either.

If you're interested, an author friend of mine has an entire page dedicated to linguistic pet peeves.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I appreciate your article. I am also in an organization with heavy emphasis on "voluntarism" and it always rubbed me the wrong way because I didn't know it's meaning. After some Internet research and reading your article I'm hoping I'll be less irked every time I see it... though I'm sure I'll be irritated when people swap in "volunteerism" into PowerPoints and handouts. :)

Unknown said...

Ha, and there I go not paying attention and using "it's" instead of "its." Sheesh.

Unknown said...

Hi Kate,

Thanks for saving yourself by self-correcting your wrong "it's". As an English teacher and nerdy (okay, pedantic) grammarian, I was about to hit you on that one!

More substantively, my reading of other articles and definitions on 'volunteerism' vs 'voluntarism' suggests that the former has come/is coming into common, ie accepted usage. And one of the things I have had to accept as an English teacher is that English changes; it modernises; and what may have been unacceptable ten or twenty years ago, can become accepted usage today. We do not have an 'Academie de l'Anglais' like the French have to police and decide what is correct (thank goodness - because it does not work for French either). So shouldn't we accept 'volunteerism' as a - perhaps slightly different - variant of 'voluntarism'?