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Advocacy, and a lawyer in the salad bowl

Do-good groups surrender something when they let themselves be described as "advocating for" the policies they promote.

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It was a brief exchange with a colleague in the corridor the other day. The "inward creep" of a new usage is bugging him: "advocating for" something, rather than just plain "advocating." What's going on there?

Hmm. I've noticed it, too.

A recent article in The Baltimore Sun mentioned "the Community Law Center, a Baltimore nonprofit that advocates for legal reform."

The San Francisco Chronicle referred recently to "Project Inform, a nonprofit that advocates for people with HIV."

Recently, USA Today mentioned the United States Association of Blind Athletes, which "has helped train blind athletes for more than 30 years and advocates for them to be allowed to compete with sighted people."

The difference between "advocating for" something and simply "advocating" it is, from a grammatical perspective, the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb. "He hit the nail on the head." The subject (doer) of a transitive verb acts upon a direct object.

Not so the subject of an intransitive verb. Compare: She sings beautifully. No object. But: She sings folk songs.

Or another example: "He swung at the pitch" (intransitive, and probably a strike) versus "He knocked the ball out of the park." The transitive use seems inherently more forceful.

When advocate is used transitively, the object it takes is generally a specific idea or course of action: "She advocates a flat tax." "He advocates lowering interest rates immediately."

Advocating for, however, sounds more generic. Absent an object, the emphasis is on the activity, rather than, dare I say, any actual results.


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