Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 62: Delegate and Relegate

This week on Grammar Grater, we're riffing from the headlines and having a look at the word delegate. With the political conventions taking place in the United States right now, one hears the word delegate used a lot during news coverage.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the noun delegate refers to "a person deputed or authorized to act for or represent another or others; especially, a person chosen or elected to represent others at a meeting, conference, etc."

Here's an example of this word as it was used in a story by Minnesota Public Radio reporter Perry Finelli:
"Participants in Minnesota's Super Tuesday caucuses selected delegates who will play an important role in the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota."

But the word delegate doesn't always have political connotations. Meeting attendees can be referred to as delegates. For example:
There were more than five thousand delegates at the insurance sales conference.

Related to the noun delegate is the verb delegate. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb delegate can mean to "send or commission a person to act as a representative." For this meaning, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary cites this quotation from Thomas Jefferson:
"Those bodies to whom the people have delegated the power of legislation."

And just like its noun cousin, the verb delegate is not limited to political contexts. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says this word can mean "assign or entrust a duty to another." For example,
The manager decided which projects needed to be done, then she delegated each project to an employee.

The verb delegate sounds a lot like another word, relegate, which has a much different meaning.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, relegate can mean "to send a person into exile; to banish to a particular place." For example,
After Napoleon had escaped exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba, he was defeated at Waterloo and relegated to the south Atlantic island of St. Helena.

People aside, the Oxford English Dictionary says relegate can also mean "to banish or dismiss an object to an unimportant or obscure place, or to consign to a usually inferior place or position," as in:
Let's relegate our used couch to the jumble sale at the community center.

And for sports fans, the word relegate is used in soccer when a team is moved to a lower division of a league following an unsuccessful season, as in:
Birmingham, Reading and Derby were all relegated from the Premiership last season, and all will be hoping for a quick return.

And the noun form of relegate is relegation ... a term that's all too familiar to long-suffering soccer fans.

Sources: Oxford English Dictionary; Shorter Oxford English Dictionary; and BBC History. Marcus Ekblom helped with the Swedish vocabulary and pronunciations used in the podcast.

Music from this Episode: "Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo" by Jens Lekman; "Waterloo" by ABBA.

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