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'Critique' or 'Criticize'?

Much to my surprise, in the past, a lot of people didn’t think critique should be used as a verb.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
July 7, 2017

A Twitter user with the handle @WeHateNick asked, “It is OK to use ‘critique’ as a verb? Do I ‘critique’ a design, or do I ‘criticize’ it?”

That turned out to be a slightly more complicated question than I expected because much to my surprise, in the past, it seems that a lot of people didn’t think critique should be used as a verb.

The History of 'Critique'

For example, I found a snipe at the word in 1992 in the popular press: A New York Times book reviewer criticized Raymond Carver, the author of a short story collection, for lack of precision in his words because, among other things, he used critique as a verb.

The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, a guide to British English published in 1996, said at the time that the verb critique was being used “controversially” in American English.* (But the most interesting thing about that entry is that it also notes that the writer of the 1926 edition of the book had hoped that the noun critique would die out. Apparently, he thought it was pretentious. This word family can’t get a break! Everyone seems to be picking on it. You can’t be a verb. We don’t like your noun.)

Today, neither the Chicago Manual of Style nor the AP Stylebook nor the Cambridge Guide to English Usage mention critique as a problem word. The newest Garner’s Modern English Usage does talk about the history, but ultimately says that critique as a verb is now fully standard. So I wouldn't worry about using it. Unless you’re writing for people who were hard-core grammar geeks 20 years ago, use the verb critique if it’s the word that sounds right in your sentence.

The Meaning of 'Critique' and 'Criticize'

I do think critique and criticize have slightly different meanings though. You can critique something without being negative, but the way I think about it, when you criticize something, that means you don’t like it. So keep that in mind.

The History of 'Finalize'

This whole discussion also reminds me of an interview I recently read in which Peter Sokolowski from Merriam-Webster talked about the way President Kennedy was criticized for using the word finalize in the 1960s because it was a relatively new word at the time. It had only entered the unabridged dictionary in 1961, and the conservative copy editors of the New York Times didn’t think it was a word that should be in the dictionary or that the president should be using. And I found the reproachful Times article about the word finalize that Peter mentioned. It’s  from November 30, 1961, and here’s a bit of it:

In the course of his highly articulate news conference today, President Kennedy struck one grating note for lovers of the English language. He used that bureaucratic favorite “finalize.”... A grieving linguist commented today that “Eisenhower began the process, Kennedy is finalizing it.”

I doubt that any linguist today is grieving about the word finalize or the word critique for that matter, but it’s fun to go back and read about the words that were considered so grating or dubious in the past and that seem completely unremarkable today.

*What is controversial is the use of the verb to mean “to judge critically, to make a critical assessment of or comment on, not necessarily in writing.” Fowlers noted that critique to mean “to write a critique upon” had been in long use and was fine.

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