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Language Arts: Groundswell

There's a popular contemporary song by the musical artist Andra Day entitled "Rise Up," in which Day sings "You're broken down and tired of living life on a merry-go-round and you can't find the fighter, but I see it in you so we gonna walk it out and move mountains . . . I'll rise up, I'll rise like the day, ooh, ooh, ooh."

Those words help connote the sentiment behind a term that has taken center stage at a time when society has become tired of the status quo, frustrated with elected officials, angry at law enforcement officers, and anxious for change.

If you had to encapsulate in a singular word what the lyrics of "Rise Up" are trying to relay - that there is a fresh idea, a new movement, rapidly gaining momentum that offers promise and hope and the opportunity to move in a new direction away from all things Establishment - you are likely to hit upon the word groundswell.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, our tried and true authority on all things etymological, groundswell means: "A fast increase in the amount of public support for something (such as a political cause or candidate.)" Or, as a second, equally good option: "A rapid spontaneous growth (as of political opinion), e.g., a groundswell of public support."

Dating back to the year 1786, before our nation even had its first president, sailors coined this term as a reference to a deep ocean swell.

According to Alden Harwood at Worldwide Words, it was not until the start of the 19th century that groundswell took on a more figurative use that conjured up thoughts of social or political agitation.

For some, that may associate groundswell with negative activity. Yet, in today's society, groundswell has been attributed to a host of grassroots, advocacy-inspired movements, e.g., Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders' "Feel the Bern" devotees. While high-spirited activism has accompanied both of these examples, the overriding mission is to be a platform for under-recognized groups, and a medium for building change.

In such and numerous other instances, alluding that something has a groundswell of support is not to say that there's been a disturbance or uprising (which also bring about a negative image frequently involving violence and/or confrontations with authority figures). Au contraire, in our contemporary times, a groundswell can indicate a strong movement afoot with intentions to deliver clarity, not chaos.

Thus, rather than act in a destructive manner and lack a clear and unified message, a groundswell harkens the image of a powerful coalition that, as it inches forward, continues to attract increasing numbers of supporters from broad cross-sections of society.

Take for example, some of the media's recent uses of the word groundswell:

  • In April, a Washington Post commentary noted, "The groundswell of American anger has sustained the unexpected presidential candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both candidates have pledged political revolutions - albeit of very different forms - to 'make America great again.'"
  • In June, a CBS News commentary chided Donald Trump for "squandering yet another opportunity" - saying that perhaps Trump doesn't really want to win the presidency but instead just "got caught off guard by the groundswell of support his candidacy provoked."
  • In July, a Reuters commentary posited that Hillary Clinton's ascendant nomination was "against a background of largely female protests about abortion rights and other women's health issues that both the midterms and then the 2016 presidential campaign will be fought. Having been beaten into second place by Barack Obama, there is a groundswell of support for Hillary Clinton among women of both parties. There is a sense, particularly among older women, that since we have now elected an African-American to the White House, it is time the United States elected a woman president."

The term's popularity is not just limited to national politics. Take, for example, the Groundswell Festival, which has been held since 2011 in Hossegor, France, combines surfing, music and eco-sensibilities to attract scores of hip and adventure-seeking enthusiasts. Separately, the GroundSwell Music Festival is marking its second anniversary this November in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Closer to home, in New York City, the non-profit organization Groundswell (est. 1996) describes itself on its website as "a group of New York City artists, educators, and activists . . . with the belief that collaborative art-making combines the sanctity of personal expression with the strength of community activism - and produces unique and powerful outcomes."

With the plethora of mentions and uses that have sprung up for groundswell, there may just be a groundswell of support for the word itself.


Previously in Language Arts:
* Pushback.

* Locavore.

* Going Rogue.

* Rebalancing.

* Poor.

* Collective Bargaining.


Comments welcome.


Posted on July 27, 2016

MUSIC - Stock Music Market On Fire.
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POLITICS - The Fed Is Making The Rich Richer.
SPORTS - White Sox Beating Manager.

BOOKS - Reassessing Mandela.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Dinosaur Drive-Thru!

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