As lovers of words, we are obligated to step in when we see a poor word being abused.
Not that we don't regularly mess up ourselves. An indignant reader recently pointed out that calling an event the "first annual" is a misnomer. Rather, it should be the "inaugural" Portland Skee-Ball Championship.
But the word we most often see getting a bad rap is "politics."
Gov. Paul LePage invokes it when talking about his opponents, but Democrats are certainly not above misusing the word.
So, we're putting out an official warning: Think twice when you hear the word used.
Politics has a long and venerable history, dating back to Aristotle's book "The Politics," or the affairs of the city. It was Aristotle who first noted that man is, by nature, a "political animal."
He felt it was natural that people form cities and that citizens engage in running them, in other words: politics.
But we realize the word has come a long way since, and Dictionary.com recognizes about four definitions:
There's the science and art of government; the practice of conducting public affairs; and then holding political principles or opinions, as in "his politics are his own affair."
By these three definitions, practically everyone is involved in politics when we so much as vote.
But the honorable definitions of the word are almost never heard these days. Instead, the fourth definition, "political methods or maneuvers," dominates all others.
If you ask Google to search for "Paul LePage" and "playing politics" you quickly see what we mean. No one uses "politics" in a complimentary way.
To the governor, Democrats and teacher unions regularly "play politics," apparently by simply opposing him.
The governor's critics, meanwhile, often accuse him of "playing politics" when he cuts income taxes or protects funding for charter schools, or so much as wakes up in the morning.
OK. So when anyone says "politics" we all know what the speaker means — the subject of that sentence is doing something selfish, bad and illegitimate. Understood.
Here's the problem: We tend to give the person saying the word a free pass without forcing them to produce evidence or explain why they are making what amounts to an accusation.
Office holders, liberal and conservative, are often eager to explain their own position and its merits. But too often they dismiss their opponents' arguments by saying they are "playing politics."
The governor is, as he said Tuesday, passionate about charter schools while public school teachers are opposing him for "political reasons."
But passion doesn't make a person correct, and "political reasons" doesn't explain anything at all.
The actual research and evidence on charter schools is very mixed, and the governor should not be given a free pass to ignore that evidence without countering it with evidence of his own.
Pointing to one student in the gallery who has succeeded in a charter school, as he did during the State of the State speech Tuesday, is not evidence, it's a nice anecdote, and those are easy to find on either side of an argument.
People may indeed have disreputable political motives, but we shouldn't just accept that they do without explanation.
We wish we could wave a wand and people would stop using "politics" as a pejorative. But we can't, and they wouldn't anyway.
Instead we should all be careful about using the word ourselves, and discount the arguments of politicians — those honorable people engaged in politics — who do.