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Word of the Week: ‘diplomatic’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘diplomatic’.

This week US President Donald Trump launched another attack in his ongoing war of words with UK politicians.

After confidential diplomatic emails from the UK’s US ambassador Sir Kim Darroch were leaked – ones which described President Trump as “inept”, “clumsy” and “insecure” – the president launched a series of insults on social media.

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As the world grabbed its popcorn, the phrases ‘diplomatic crisis’ and ‘diplomatic leak’ have become breakout searches on Google Trends.

What is the meaning of ‘diplomatic’?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the adjective ‘diplomatic’ as a) “involving diplomats or the management of relationships between countries” and b) “acting in a way that does not cause offence.”

Entries on the Urban Dictionary reinforce these definitions – emphasising that by acting in a ‘diplomatic’ way one is “saved from making more enemies.”

Another, more etymological definition of ‘diplomatic’ or ‘diplomatics’ is “the science of deciphering old official documents and charters, and of determining their authenticity and age.” While synonyms of ‘diplomatic’ range from ‘strategic’ to the less-than-flattering ‘conniving’, ‘crafty’ and ‘scheming’. 

What is the etymology of ‘diplomatic’?

The word stems from the new Latin ‘diplomaticus’ which itself derived from ‘diploma’ – meaning “an official document of recommendation.”

Harking back to the 18th century, French writer Jean Dumont published a collection of original texts of treaties from the Peace of Münster titled: Corps universel diplomatique du droit des gens (1726). 

Here, ‘diplomatic’ described the body of official documents, but over time the word evolved to reference the subject of the documents themselves – namely international relations.

Author and political theorist Edmund Burke then popularised this political understanding of the word in his book Further Reflections on Revolution in France (1790). He used the phrase ‘corps diplomatique’ (‘body of documents’) to refer to the ambassadors engaging in international relations and diplomacy.

From the 19th century onwards, the word gained a more general sense of ‘tactful’ and ‘adroit’ – admittedly not the first definitions that spring to mind when we think about the White House.

It’s a word that has constantly evolved over the centuries and perhaps #cablegate will change its meaning even further… ‘A sensitive and skilful way of dealing with a highly explosive character in a tweet under 280-characters.’

Read more:

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Roisin McCormack