July 24, 2006

The Word of the Decade: "Elites"

The first time I can recall anybody using the plural form of "elite" was at a December 1999 Hudson Institute conference. Since then, it has become omnipresent.

I've used it a lot myself, but I must confess that I have never been sure exactly what it means. It has two possible meanings: as a collective noun for collective nouns (e.g., elite groups) or as a collective noun for individuals who are elite.

The former is the more traditional use of the term, since "an elite" has normally designated a group of individuals: e.g., "Navy SEALs are an elite." In the past, you wouldn't have said, "A Navy SEAL is an elite." You would have said "A Navy SEAL belongs to an elite." Or you would have used "elite" as an adjective when referring to an individual: "A Navy SEAL is an elite fighting man." But, now, it appears that "elites" can mean the plural: "Navy SEALs are elites." Yet, you still don't see "elite" used very often to refer to a single individual: "A Navy SEAL is an elite."

I tend to weasel-word my sentences so "elites" could mean either. For example, if I write "Elites favor mass immigration," I could be referring to various elite organizations and groups, such as, say, the Business Roundtable, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the like. This would be the more traditional use of the term.

But I could also mean individuals who have elite status in some fashion. That would be a more novel use of the word.

So, what exactly is the meaning and status of the Word of the Decade?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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