Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Deciders and Decision-Makers

I often come to words in the news long after they are in the news (the price of thinking things through before writing). Today I had a stray thought about our president’s reference to himself as a decider rather than a decision-maker. (Don’t ask why this word popped in my head while I was working out.)

Last April, almost a year ago today, Mr. Bush declared, “But I’m the decider and I decide what’s best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense” The issue here is: What is wrong with decider? Someone who rides is a rider, someone who fights is a fighter, someone who plods is a plodder. So why is someone who decides a decision-maker? And why is decider funny?

The answer—I think—is sociolinguistic. We all make decisions every day and in that sense we are all deciders. That sense is trivial, so trivial we never use the word although it is a perfectly legitimate word found in most dictionaries. The word is used mostly in sports for a play that decides the final score and the winner.

The only sense in which this word is really needed is to refer to someone who regularly decides for other people and that person is usually in such an august managerial position that a trivial word will not do. Instead of using decided to refer to such panjandra, we go to the phrase, “make decisions”, and use the nominalization of that phrase: decision-maker.

The president’s use of decider, then, was funny because it trivialized what he was talking about: his own role as a decision-maker for the nation. Maybe you already knew that. I just figured it out this morning.

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