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Farewell to Generalissimo Franco

A colleague has inquired whether it is advisable to maintain the distinction in the Associated Press Stylebook that a regime is a system of rule rather than a particular ruler or government.

Garner on Usage is silent on the subject. The New Oxford American Dictionary gives as its first meaning “the government, esp. an authoritarian one.” gives “a form of government” but also “a government in power.” American Heritage also includes "a government in power," without triggering any dispute from its panel of usage advisers.

I suspect that the stylebook entry dates from the 1960s, particularly since the entry for regime in Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer (1965) closely parallels the AP Stylebook entry. Further evidence is that the government, junta, regime entry in AP gives the examples “[U]se the Franco government in referring to the government of Spain under Francisco Franco, not Franco regime.”

Some of our younger colleagues may need to be informed that the generalissimo climbed the golden staircase back in 1975,* suggesting that this unrevised entry is one more fossil remnant that current writers and editors can safely ignore.


*Still dead.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:07 AM | | Comments (10)


a) I thought at first this was going to be about the use of "regime" to mean "regimen," which AHD says is ok, but which still sounds weird to me for some reason.

b) "Still dead." Ha! Nice one.

We were living in Switzerland at the time of Franco's death. I remember riding in a tram, reading the International Herald Tribune, minding my own business. A man from Spain saw the headline about Franco dying and snatched the paper from my hands. (And people say newspapers are irrelevant ...)

"Still dead."

Isn't it amazing how two words can unloose a flood of pictures and memories?

Yes, but don't let the whippersnappers forget the wicked old fossil.

The year before, the Carnation Revolution had swept away the Estado Novo in Portugal and the collapse of the Colonels' Junta had restored democracy to Greece. When the Caudillo himself joined the queue at the exit, 1975 in Southern Europe felt much like 1989 in Berlin would feel.

Some years back, when I was more bloody-minded about such issues, I called a colleague at the paper and objected to the use of Down Syndrome in copy. I contended it should be Down's Syndrome. His comment:"The AP Stylebook says it's Down Syndrome."

I'd have said 'Franco('s) regime' was accurate. Because Franco's dictatorship violently replaced one system, a republic, was succeeded by another, a constitutional monarchy, and in the meanwhile agglutinated a number of conflicting conservative movements of various ideologies, often mutually incompatible and none strong enough to take power on their own. So in the end, it was characterized by not having very much in the way of a 'system' at all except whatever Franco himself wanted at any one time. Whereas Hitler, to take another example, headed and reached power because of a strong political party with a single ideology - fringe groups aside - so I'd have thought 'Nazi regime' more appropriate.

"The golden staircase', indeed.

Prof. McI., you've managed to jog my moribund long-term pop culture memory back to the golden age of Saturday Night Live, and probably the very first lasting running gag line of this now iconic NBC weekly sketch comedy institution; namely, "Generalissimo Franco is STILL dead."

Original cast member, Chevy Chase, back in 1975 (the year of SNL's debut), the first (faux) news anchor of the Weekend Update segment, for weeks-on-end would proclaim the reviled Spanish fascist despot's continued demise, each time w/ a certain mock sincerity and surety. Rumor had it that Chase was parodying the on-air delivery of network newsman, John Chancellor, one of the more well respected high-profile anchors of that era.

Today's headline sound-bite might read, "Moammar Gadhafi is STILL ALIVE." The fugitive despot appears to be about as slippery as a greased swine, and defiantly vows to maintain his 'regime' till ultimate "victory or martyrdom". Shades of Sadaam, no?


Marc Leavitt: "Down syndrome" fits the pattern of other disease names named after people, like "Jakob-Creutzfeld disease" (one of the many names for mad cow disease). What's more, it doesn't suggest (falsely) that Dr. Down had the condition named after him; in fact, he was the first person to describe it in English.

I was going to say much the same as John Ross, in that Franco is identified with a particular form of government which started and ended with his own rule. And despite using La Falange as an organising structure, it was very much his regime, not the party's.

BTW, I should probably know better than to nitpick with a copy editor, but shouldn't it be 'generalísimo' (accent optional, but only one 's'?)

C. Ingram: *Generalissimo* came into English from Italian, not Spanish; the OED first reports it from 1621. Here's one of the more modern quotations listed by the OED, showing that this very paper has been using the "-ss-" spelling for that very personage for three-quarters of a century:

1937 Sun (Baltimore) 19 Oct. 6/1
British and French authorities have expressed belief that there are at least 100,000 Italians serving under Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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