Make Fixing This One of Your Central Tenets
I saw a tenents of our core business in an item I was editing the other day, drawing a compromise between tenets and the often-misapplied tenants. Or perhaps simply resurrecting a perfectly good word from Latin.
What the writer was going for was tenets, a principle of belief. It’s often rendered as the more familiar word tenants, people who rent property. Tenants for tenets seems almost rampant. President Obama has pronounced the nonexistent n at least twice in major speeches. Libertarian political commentator Wayne Allyn Root attacked Obama in a recent bog post on the Fox News website, claiming that equality, fairness, and social justice “have never been the central tenants of our country.
Tenant, tenet and the obsolete tenent share the Latin root tenere, which means to hold. The Oxford English Dictionary has examples of tenant dating to the 14th century, with the legal term coming from French. Tenent and tenet came to English a few hundred years later and coexisted for a while. The OED says tenent was the more common spelling at first, but it was supplanted by tenet in the early 18th century.
If we’re speaking Latin, we would use tenent to refer to shared beliefs and tenet to refer to the beliefs of an individual. But speaking Latin isn’t advised. Tenent is no longer a useful word.
Bryan Garner in his Language Change Index puts tenant for tenet at Stage 2: Widely shunned. Given the presidential imprimatur, we may have reached Stage 3: Widespread but ... .
And before you gleefully add a comment below, yes, Tennant was the Tenth Doctor.