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Team up with me in My Media English Watch!

I am inviting Forum members to team up with me in doing My Media English Watch. This way, we can further widen this Forum’s dragnet for bad or questionable English usage in both the print media and broadcast media, thus giving more teeth to our campaign to encourage them to continuously improve their English. All you need to do is pinpoint every serious English misuse you encounter while reading your favorite newspaper or viewing your favorite network or cable TV programs. Just tell me about the English misuse and I will do a grammar critique of it.

Read the guidelines and house rules for joining My Media English Watch!

For a very rotten institution, choose “abolition” over “abolishment”

The verb “establish” means to institute something permanently by enactment or agreement, and it’s self-evident that the noun form for that act is “establishment.” On the other hand, the verb “abolish” means to end or annul the observance or effect of something, so by simple parallelism, it should likewise be self-evident that the noun form for that act is “abolishment”—or should it be really? Shouldn’t it be the good, old, familiar noun “abolition” instead?

This question came up on Twitter a few days ago when Philippine Star business columnist Boo Chanco expressed doubt that “abolishment” is the right word for annulling things. He tweeted: “Mayroon bang word na abolishment? Just wondering. Hindi ba abolition dapat?” He sent copies of the tweet to Nik de Ynchausti (@iwriteasiwrite), Inday Espina Varona (@indayevarona), and Cocoy Dayao (@cocoy).

Nik de Ynchausti tweeted back, furnishing copies of his tweet to Inday Varona and Cocoy Dayao: “Interchangeable. Abolition technically more correct, but abolishment entered lexicon a whole (sic) ago.” (I think he meant to say way back in the 16th century, or over 400 years ago, but we all know that Twitter has the very stringent character-count limit of 140.)

At this point, Boo Chanco got me into their tweet-chain and asked me this question: “Is this true about abolishment? Sakit sa tenga! [It’s so painful to the ear!]”

Hmm… Regardless of their sound and their provenance, let’s see which of the two, “abolition” or “abolishment,” is the contextually correct noun for our terribly unsettled times.

Evidently, this “abolition vs. abolishment” dilemma cropped up when in a news story last August 27, 2013, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Senate President Franklin Drilon Jr.’s intriguing response to President Benigno Aquino III’s declaration that it was time to abolish the much-reviled pork barrel or PDAF.

The Inquirer quoted Drilon: “What will happen if we will not take a direct hand (in the identification of projects)? Let’s just abolish Congress then.” The Inquirer then reported in paraphrase that Drilon “also assured the public that the Senate would approve the freedom of information bill along with the abolition of pork but he could not make any guarantee on the House’s action.”

The verb “abolition” also figured twice in that same news story in the opinion given by Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone on the issue. He doubted that an impeachment case against President Benigno Aquino III for wanting to get rid of the pork barrel would prosper in Congress. Evardone argued: “I don’t think any move of the opposition to initiate an impeachment will fly just because of the abolition of the pork barrel. In the first place, the majority coalition supports the decision made by PNoy. Second, the abolition of the pork barrel is very popular with the people.” (All underscoring of “abolition” in the preceding two paragraphs mine.)

So it looks like “abolition” is really the top-of-mind choice of our legislators as well as of newspaper reporters and editors for the noun form of the verb “abolish.” As far as I can gather, in fact, nowhere in the media reportage about President Aquino’s decision to get rid of the pork barrel was the noun “abolishment” ever used.

So how then did the obscure noun “abolishment” get into the pork-barrel picture?

Well, whether Boo Chanco knew about this or not, the word “abolishment” did figure prominently in Metro Manila campus circles earlier this year. I found out that during the Economics Leaders Congress held at De La Salle University-Manila from February 26-27, 2013, Faye Sta. Ana, representing the UST Artlets Economics Society, won the debate competition on the theme—talk of déjà vu!—“ The Abolishment of Sangguniang Kabataan.” (It really doesn’t matter in this discussion whether Faye took the pro or con stance, but wouldn’t it be great to know why the participating schools in that congress had chosen “abolishment” over “abolition” in the wording of the topic for that debate?)

At any rate, through its Facebook account, the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters spread the good news about Faye’s victory, at the same time also warmly congratulating Faye and her teammates—Joan De Guia Magno, Arvin Bernabe, and Lovely Tolin—for winning the Outstanding Policy Proposal competition with their entry entitled “Developing Community-based Financial Literacy.”

So this is very likely why “abolishment” had made its presence significantly felt in social media in recent  months, generating enough awareness to make mainstream media practitioners like my friend Boo Chanco wonder what the heck that cacophonic, seemingly out-of-place noun is doing in today’s raging pork-barrel controversy.

Since I was asked the question, though, I’ll take a position now: I’d prefer “abolition” hands-down over “abolishment” anytime—whether it’s to be done to the Sangguniang Kabataan, the pork barrel, or even Congress for that matter. “Abolition” sounds so right and so just and so contemporary to me; “abolishment,” frankly, sounds too pedantic and hoity-toitily academic for my taste. Having taken that position, though, I must hasten to add that both nouns are considered correct and acceptable English.

Here, from the website, is the most comprehensive, most level-headed appraisal I’ve come across on the usage of these essentially synonymous nouns:

Abolishment vs. abolition

Abolishment appears in many dictionaries and is not considered incorrect, but abolition is preferred in all modern varieties of English. Both nouns mean the act of doing away with something, and neither has any meanings it does not share with the other.

Both words date from the early 16th century (soon after abolish came to English from French roots), but abolition has always been more common, and it now appears about ten times as often as abolishment. Some writers reserve abolishment for senses unrelated to slavery, but the distinction is unnecessary.

In these examples, abolishment is not wrong, but the more common abolition would work just as well:
Top EU officials, while speaking in favor of the measure, have said that full abolishment of visas won’t happen in the near future. [CNN International]

Among the topics broached in this effort was the removal of the two-line pass and the abolishment of the trapezoid area behind the net. [Fox News]

And these examples show that abolition can denote the doing away of anything (not just slavery):
Within hours of the first reports of trouble at Japan’s nuclear power plants, calls for abolition could be heard around the world. [Vancouver Sun (article now offline)]

The abolition of prescription charges in Scotland has sparked division and anger … [Scotsman]

Supporters of negative gearing argue that its abolition would lead to a “landlords’ strike” … [Sydney Morning Herald]

So now, if you want so badly to get rid of an institution that has become so rotten and so corrupt, go for its abolition rather than for its abolishment.

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