Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wanted: Impractical People

The word "visionary" is used quite a bit in this neck of the woods--maybe overused.

From the context, it appears that the people using it believe that being visionary is a good thing.

For example, the Kitsap County commissioners are looking for volunteers to serve on a budget advisory committee:

PORT ORCHARD, WA—The County Commissioners are looking for visionary citizens with some knowledge and interest in finances to serve on the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.

Here is the definition in Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition:

Visionary, adjective, (1) of, or having the nature of, or seen in a vision; (2)(a) existing only in the mind; not real; imaginary [visionary achievements]; (2)(b) not capable of being put into effect; not realistic; impractical [a visionary scheme]; (3) seeing or disposed to see visions; (4) characterized by impractical ideas or schemes. Noun, (1) a person who sees visions; prophet or seer; (2) a person whose ideas, plans, etc. are impractical, too idealistic, or fantastic; dreamer; (3) a person of strong and creative imaginative power and, often, the ability to inspire others.

Only at the last, when visionary is used as a noun, is there a definition that could be understood as a compliment--the ability to inspire others.

I doubt that the county is seeking impractical dreamers for its advisory committee, so apparently we are observing the evolution of a word in the English language. Eventually, people may not even recall when it wasn't a complimentary term.

In the meantime, it's a little amusing to see an appeal for advisors who are impractical dreamers.


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