We’ll miss you, “Comrade.”

As writers from Chaucer to Shakespeare to George Orwell and beyond can attest, words change meaning with sad regularity. Usually they change gradually over the years, but sometimes the new meaning explodes out of nowhere. And sometimes those changes come about because a word is hijacked by a political or social movement.

Before being coopted by the Communists, specifically the Soviets, “comrade” was a very useful concept. It held the middle ground between “friend” and “acquaintance,” or more importantly between “friend” and “coworkers.”

I work on political campaigns, which are by their nature time-limited and intense; you get to know your coworkers over time, especially those with whom you have worked several campaigns. Maybe not their histories, but their personalities, their tics, the way they respond to pressure (or not, although people who can’t stand the heat usually rapidly leave the kitchen).

For the most part, I like my coworkers. (There are very rare exceptions, I will admit.) But  I don’t count all of them as my friends. We may rub each other the wrong way, or just be too different. I still respect them, and because of the nature of the work, really consider them more than simply coworkers.

They are my comrades. We fight the good fight together, and do often under-appreciated work that can make a difference between a candidate’s success and failure. But I could never call them that, because Communists appropriated the word to refer party members. (This is especially true because I work for an organization that has a progressive bent.)

It’s a shame.  “Comrade” is such a great word. It’s too bad it’s been lost.

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