Trend Watch

Spicer Takes Issue with 'Demonstrators'

'A person who engages in a public demonstration'


Demonstrator (“one that demonstrates”) gathered together thousands of its followers, each one armed with a handwritten sign and implacable desiderata, and marched to a position among our most searched-for words on January 27th, 2017. The increase in lookups appears to have been driven by media coverage of a demonstration held in Washington DC by March for Life, demonstrating against legalized abortion.

demonstration

One common meaning of 'demonstrator' is “a person who engages in a public demonstration.”

The organization has predicted tens of thousands of demonstrators would rally on the National Mall starting around midday Friday before marching to the Supreme Court.
Associated Press, 26 Jan. 2017

Some, including White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, took exception to the use of the word demonstrator being used to describe the participants in the event.

Demonstrator has been in use in English since at least the end of the 16th century, although for much of the first several hundred years it was used primarily in the sense of “one that makes a demonstration of a thing (such as a scientific principle, or a tool).”

So I now say or will assaie to encounter the Demonstrator and his demonstrations, to quell this monster amongst men.
—Matthew Sutcliffe, A Remonstrance, 1590

The sense relating to public protests does not appear to have been in use prior to the early 19th century. We define this sense in broad fashion (“a person who engages in a public demonstration”), as the word is used in a broad fashion, applied to groups of participants in organized public gatherings across a wide spectrum of leanings, political and otherwise.

Demonstrators March Through Philadelphia Same Day Donald Trump Visits
—nbcphiladelphia.com (headline), 26 Jan. 2017

Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.



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