This is something that came up more than once over the weekend, during my attempt at liveblogging a panel at the Manning Centre conference, but has cropped up before as a unintentional ambiguator: When listening to those of a conservative – or nonconservative, for that matter – persuasion speak, how does one discern whether they are referring to capital-C, card-carrying Conservatives or the Conservative Party, or plain old small-c conservatives, who may or may not be affiliated with the party itself?
Sometimes, the context can help — at the conference, for instance, when the “conservative movement” was mentioned, it almost always seemed to be a reference to the broader, small-c set of conservatives. But what about this post from earlier today, where a big-C Conservative campus organization invited members of the big-C Conservative party to discuss political strategy, one of whom refers to becoming a “hero of the *onservative movement”? Is that a big C or a small one? Or, for that matter, this quote, where Pierre Poilievre refers to “*onservative-inclined voters”? Does he mean voters with a small-c leaning, or those who are already likely to vote for the Conservative Party?
The same difficulty arises occasionally on the other side of the political spectrum, where we have the Liberal/liberal conundrum. But because there are more federal parties with a small-l liberal leaning than just the big-L liberals, when someone uses the l-word, there is usually more of an effort made to distinguish between the two.
Anyway, are there any linguistically-minded readers out there who might be able to suggest a rule of thumb, particularly for journalists who are often called upon to report on written remarks, and wouldn’t want to accidentally misconstrue a big C as a little one, or vice versa?