Extreme liberties in the use of the word ‘presumptive’

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I CAN see from my Google check today that labeling Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as “presumptive president” of the Philippines has now become a fait accompli in local media.

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This is despite the fact that “presumptive,” which has been aptly described as “painful to the eye and ear” by a columnist of another national newspaper, is logically and semantically wrong considering (a) the candidate’s astonishing landslide victory, (b) the conceding in quick succession by the top three of his four opponents, and (c) every other evidence available to the senses of normal individuals.

Of course we can reasonably expect dyed-in-the-wool lawyers and Mayor Duterte’s detractors to insist on the “presumptive” label until he is proclaimed by the Philippine Senate on June 30 as “the duly elected President of the Republic of the Philippines,” but what do we make of, say, the English of the following web news report: “Rodrigo Duterte, presumptive president and expected winner of the 2016 elections, has given so much color to the Philippine presidential race”? What do we make of this lead sentence of this other TV news report: “Aside from restoring death penalty and imposing curfew, presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte revealed he is also planning to implement a three-child policy”?

Extreme liberties with language—both misleading—were obviously taken with the use of the appositives “presumptive president” and “expected winner of the 2016 elections.” The first, “presumptive president,” strongly gives the wrong impression that it is the subject himself shamelessly making that presumption, when in fact it is the reporter herself—imitating a wrongheaded usage somewhere—who made that presumption. The second, “expected winner of the 2016 elections,” is clearly factually wrong because it’s no longer an expectation but a done deal, what with the candidate having garnered in the range of 6 million votes over his nearest opponent (Given these figures, can anybody tell me what’s so difficult, unwarranted, unjournalistic, or illegal in saying that the candidate is “the clear winner of the 2016 elections”?)

What’s even more galling about the word “presumptive” is that it’s sometimes used in the sense of “arrogant” and “presumptuous,” as in the case of a candidate who was accused of being very presumptive in claiming victory even before completion of the vote counting.

Ironically, that very word was used—appropriately this time—by a major daily in this recent news item: “Camarines Rep. Leni Robredo has all the rights to be referred to as the presumptive Vice President-elect in the May 9, 2016 elections, according to her counsel Atty. Romulo Macalintal.” However, we must allow for the fact that it’s a lawyer being quoted speaking on his client’s behalf.

In practically all usage of “presumptive president” that I have come across in local media recently, there’s a disturbing misappreciation and misunderstanding—perhaps even a fastidious or mischievous intent—in labeling Mayor Duterte as “presumptive president.” I say disturbing because dictionaries tell us that “presumptive” means “of the nature of a presumption” or “presumed in the absence of further information”; the word is synonymous with “conjectural,” “speculative,” and “tentative” and, in a looser sense, with “probable,” “likely,” “prospective,” “assumed,” “supposed,” and “expected.”

As to Mayor Duterte’s presidential win, however, there’s no element whatsoever of uncertainty or tentativeness about it—certainly not in the sense of the uncertainty and raging recriminations over the winner in the closely fought vice-presidential race between Rep. Leni Robredo and Sen. Bongbong Marcos.

Is it too much to expect local media to relent calling Mayor Duterte “presumptive president” and charitably describe him “president-elect” instead? No, perhaps not just as yet. Take a look at this TV network website news item: “Presumptive president-elect RodyDuterte will continue President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy)’s macroeconomic policies focusing on higher infrastructure spending and fiscal efficiency.”

Some journalistic habits, once acquired, die hard.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo. E-mail: j8carillo@yahoo.com

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3 Comments

  1. Josefino Bajado Velasco on

    You are definitely righy Sir. That tag line is very irritating thr ears. Why presume when he is the sure winner? Now lwt us talk about the presumptive outgoing president. Presumptive in the sense that he still presumes he can still hold everybody by the neck. That is presumption on the edge of hallucination.

  2. jessie nabong on

    pwede pang sabihin na si Donald Trump is the presumptive presidential bet. pinulot lang ng local media ito ng nangunguna na si Trump sa kanyang partido. ang galing ng pinoy manggaya…

    • You’re absolutely right, Jessie! Donald Trump is the perfect embodiment of a presumptive presidential bet.

      Indeed, I found a grammatically and semantically correct usage of the adjective “presumptive” in this May 28, 2016 news report by The New York Times about Trump’s campaign: “The limits of the presumptive Republican nominee’s managerial style, reliant on his gut and built around his unpredictable personality, are becoming apparent.” The word is used in the context of Trump having become the political party’s winning nominee for the U.S. residency based on his overall winning performance in the party’s state-by-state primaries. In short, he is still “presumptive” because he has not won the position in a general national election yet, unlike in the Philippine national elections last May 9, 2016 where Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won an astonishing landslide victory and definitely could no longer be called a “presumptive president” thereafter. I trust that this would clarify the meaning of that badly misused word once and for all.