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A Word for Parlous Times

By Evan Jenkins

For a little less than four score and seven years, professors and editors have told writers to avoid the word “normalcy.” Coined by Warren G. Harding, they said, and what did he know? Only “normality” would do. But though the great statesman’s prescription in his 1920 presidential campaign — “not nostrums, but normalcy” — both popularized the word and drew derision from pedants, it had been around long before he used it. Over the years since, says Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, “normalcy” has become “recognized as standard by all major dictionaries,” and “there is no need to avoid its use.”

Its use has hardly been avoided since September 11, 2001; it has pretty much swamped “normality” to express the condition Americans long for and whose loss they grieve. And somehow, despite long indoctrination, “normalcy” these days sounds perfectly (yes) normal.


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Sept / Oct 08

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