News & Features » Miscellany

Home Sweet Homeland

Rosie Right

The copy editors chat group on the Internet has been discussing the use of the word homeland. Homeland is certainly not a term we used often in conversation before Tom Ridge's appointment to be head of our new Office of Homeland Security.

Several of the editors have objected to homeland because of its connotations of South Africa's apartheid and to other political movements. One correspondent complained: "When I hear it, I get the heebie-jeebies."

The primary definition of the word belies that discomfort. According to the New Oxford Dictionary of English, for example, homeland is "a person's or a people's native land." But this harmless description is followed by: "an autonomous or semi-autonomous state occupied by a particular people … historical: any of ten partially self-governing areas in South Africa designated for particular indigenous African peoples under the former policy of separate development."

The "homelands" were designed by the conservative government of South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s, and the blacks who required to live there lost their South African citizenship and lived in crowded poverty.

On the other hand, there is a history of exiled peoples longing for their homeland, and the word has been used to express that longing — as it was in the song "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music": "Bless my homeland forever."

Still, perhaps it would have been wiser for our government to select a word without political connotations. One copy editor suggested director of domestic security. Now, if there's nothing wrong with the word "domestic"...


Even the tragedy of anthrax poisoning presents its word problems. A reader tells Rosie that he is tired of hearing about flulike symptoms. Is flulike even a word? The use of this term began before anthrax hit, he says. The sports announcers, for example, would say that Michael Jordan was suffering from "flulike symptoms." Why not just say he had the flu?

Now, however, we are probably stuck with flulike, for anthrax is certainly not the flu, yet it has similar early symptoms.

As to writing the word solid without a hyphen, Rosie has always been bemused by the AP rule: "-like Do not precede this suffix by a hyphen unless the letter 'l' would be tripled." Rosie seldom runs into a word like that.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825, ext. 322), letter (1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, Va. 23230), or e-mail

Add a comment