Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Advocacy of a Usage of ‘Advocate’

The mysterious JBR wrote today: “My biggest fight with committee people that I am involved with is the use of the word ‘advocate.’ One advocates a position, not for or against it. Yet one can be an advocate for or against something.  I even hear lawyers, who should know better, misuse the word.”

An advocate for or against something? I don’t know what an ‘advocate against something’ would be. An advocate by definition is someone who publicly supports someone or something.  How can you support not supporting something? That would be opposing it.

I would say, ‘She is an advocate of clean air’. Neither ‘for’ nor ‘against’ goes with ‘advocate’ the noun or the verb. If you are against it, you oppose it.

Admittedly, we hear ‘advocate for’ and ‘advocate against’ enough that we are becoming comfortable with these phrases—too comfortable, in fact. Let’s get back in contact with the meaning of this word.

2 Responses to “Advocacy of a Usage of ‘Advocate’”

  1. Doug Brandt Says:

    I always love finding opinions that are identical to mine, especially when the person who shares my opinion has a better way of explaining a rule than I do. I will print out this page and hand it to my coworkers who disagree with my decision to ban the use of advocating for and against things. I’m also going to bookmark this page. Thank you!

    Doug Brandt
    Associate Editor
    American Journal of Nursing

  2. Aaron Tovish Says:

    I am not a trained grammarian, but I think that your explanation, while helpful is incomplete.
    Advocate can also be a noun: the person who advocates something on behalf of some group.
    “She is an advocate for the homeless.”
    Some people make the mistake of transposing this into:
    “She advocates for the homeless.”
    This is only, just barely acceptable, acceptable. It would be better if it were:
    “She advocates on behalf of the homeless.”
    (Although this leaves dangling the question of what exactly it is that she advocates, and why the homeless need her advocacy.)
    So my rule of thumb is:
    If you can substitute ‘on behalf of’ (which admittedly can seem a bit wordy) for ‘for’ then let the ‘for’ pass. If you can remove the ‘for’ without making the sentence meaningless, do so.
    (“She advocates the homeless.” won’t fly.)

Leave a Reply