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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Tactical or strategic? Canadianism alert


With the UK election imminent, my Facebook feed is filling up with posts about "tactical voting". 

For those of you who don't live in a first-past-the-post parliamentary system, this is what "tactical voting" is:
tactical voting Politics the practice of transferring electoral allegiance for tactical purposes, esp. in the hope of denying victory to a third party; also tactical vote, tactical voter.
1974   M. Steed in D. Butler & D. Kavanagh Brit. Gen. Election Feb. 1974 317   Some people who would have voted Labour, had they lived in an average constituency with a full choice of parties, voted Liberal or SNP where a Labour candidate had little or no chance of winning. Thus the theory is one of tactical voting. -- Oxford English Dictionary
So, for instance, if you normally vote Liberal but the Liberal candidate doesn't have a hope of winning in your constituency, you might choose to vote (in Canada) NDP to make sure the Conservative candidate doesn't win, so that the Conservatives won't win enough seats to form a government.
BUT! If you're Canadian, by now you're thinking, "Wait a minute, we don't call that tactical voting, we call it strategic voting". 

Indeed we do. The term "strategic voting" (or "vote strategically") is overwhelmingly Canadian, and has been with us since at least the 1970s.

Both these words come ultimately from Greek:
tactic from Greek taktos ‘ordered, arranged’
strategic from Greek, from stratēgos "general" from stratos ‘army’+ agein ‘to lead’
Although military specialists will tell you that there is a difference between strategy and tactics, the first being
The art or practice of planning or directing the larger movements or long-term objectives of a battle, military campaign, etc. Often distinguished from tactics, considered as the art of directing forces engaged in action or in the immediate presence of the enemy. -- Oxford English Dictionary
 in general usage, the two words overlap. 
Or perhaps Canadians are taking a more long-term view at the ballot box whereas the British feel themselves to be "in the immediate presence of the enemy". 

Did you miss last week's post? It's a fun one, about how wacky English spelling is. You can find it here: https://katherinebarber.blogspot.com/2019/12/how-wacky-is-english-spelling.html

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.