Friday, August 24, 2007


At work we capitalise words like 'government', 'parliament', and 'senate' if they are used in a specific, not a generic, sense. So:
the Howard Government
the Liberal Government
the Victorian Parliament
the State Government
If the references are not specific, or are plural, then the words are not capitalised. So:
the state governments
the two parliaments
a senate election
Well, at work yesterday I came across the phrase 'Both sides of government', referring to a specific event - I think it was something to do with Australian hospitals. Now, I think 'government' here should be capitalised, since it was clear that they were referring to the federal institution. I got overruled, of course, since it's such an unconventional phrase anyway. Also, more substantially, the word 'government' is most often used in this sense:
The Federal Government
The Federal Opposition
The State Government
The State Opposition
That is, the presumption is that 'government' is a different and separate institution to 'opposition'. And it's true that this is the sense in which it is often used nowadays. But these are the relevant definitions for 'government' in Macquarie Dictionary.
noun 1. the authoritative direction and restraint exercised over the actions of people in communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, etc.; political rule and administration: government is necessary to the existence of society.
2. the form or system of rule by which a state, community, etc., is governed: monarchical government; episcopal government.
3. (sometimes upper case) (sometimes construed as plural) the governing body of persons in a state, community, etc.; the executive power; the administration: the government was defeated in the last election.
Now, I think a case can be made that the word 'government' applies to the whole group of democratically elected politicians, both in power and in opposition. I also think there's an ambiguity here when we use terms like 'the Howard Government', since it is not clear whether we are referring to 'the Howard Government' as the body of Federal Liberal Ministers who have the power; or if we are actually referring to 'the Howard Government' as the entire body of ministers, Labor, Liberal, Democrat, Greens (etc) who collectively make democratic decisions on our behalf, and whose most influential faction - as a result of the process known as a Federal election - is that led by John Howard, leading to the term 'Howard Government'.

What do you say, astute citizens of the blog world?

And yes, it did piss me off!


nailpolishblues said...

I would have capitalised it simply for it referring to both sides of the institution of Government or, more correctly, in meaning 'The Government and The Opposition' as opposed to 'both sides of government' meaning the governed and the governors.

TimT said...

Yeah, there's an ambiguity there that none of us had thought about, since when you say 'Government' you could be refferring to the whole institution of Government or simply those people opposed to the Opposition, though they didn't really want to talk about that at work.

Anonymous said...

If it's in regard to hospitals, I'd say Both sides of government was simply wrong. They're probably referring to Federal and State (as in, the recent intervention in Tas) therefore "both levels of Government" (specific, I think) would be the go.

Oh, how I love to nitpick.


TimT said...

That's true. I can't remember the specific circumstances, and being argumentative, I was more interested in the ambiguity it revealed. Fat lot of good that argument did me, though!

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