Monday, March 21, 2005

The word "individual"

Is "individual" a synonym for "person"? I've encountered this usage a lot lately, and it strikes me as "business talk" or "corporatese."

"If this individual is here, please raise your hand."

"I want to speak to every individual on this list."

I dislike this usage. It's pretentious and ignorant at the same time. The writer or speaker is simply trying to find a fancy word for "person," right? I always thought "individual" was an adjective--rarely used as a noun:

"We were served individual meals."

"Courts do not directly make public policy; they decide individual cases."

I am away from my usage dictionaries and writing guides, but I'm sure that the use of the word "individual" in place of "person" is not preferred.

A quick Web search turned up this quotation from H.W. Fowler's The King's English in 1908:

"An individual is not simply a person; it is a single, separate, or private person, a person as opposed to a combination of persons . . ."

Stop using "individual" to mean "person," okay?

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