John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wasted words: New initiative

It appears to be lost on many that an initiative is something that is being started, and thus new. The word derives from the Latin initiare, to begin. It is related to initiate, to take the first steps, initiation, and initial, all of which share the sense of a beginning.

New initiative is usually a cant phrase favored by officials trying to dress up some proposed action for the public. It is defensible only in the context of comparison with a previous initiative that went nowhere, as so many do.


  1. As someone who once wrote speeches in Washington, I can attest to the ubiquity of not just "new initiative" but also formulations like "unprecedented new initiative."

    All part of the fog induced by attempting to say as little as possible for as long as possible.

  2. That seems a little harsh. If I begin initiative A to solve some problem, and a week later I also begin initiative B to solve another problem, then I may justly refer to B as the new initiative, as opposed to A which is now (by a week) the old initiative.

  3. I like the idea that "new initiative" carries an implicit self-criticism. This should be made more widely known, so we have another reason to laught at politicians.