Hitting their Stridency

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The other day on NPR's "Marketplace," Robert Hass tells me, a Wall Street analyst said that Obama "has to show Americans that he is making strident progress toward stabilizing the credit crisis." A new one on me, but Google turns up about 100 hits for strident progress, 50 or so for strident advances, and almost 400 for strident growth, the great majority of them suggesting simply "great" or "impressive," with no intimation of shrillness or unpleasantness:

Today, some of the most strident advances in technology overall have been in the arena of forecasting… (CBS3, Springfield, Mass.)

Sizzler made strident progress throughout the 1980s, blossoming into a vibrant enterprise. (Worldwide Restaurant Concepts, Inc.)

The failure of real gains to trickle down the income scale has been mitigated by… a strident expansion of public sector activities and the public funding of employment within the public and private sectors. (Economic Research Council, UK)

The shares are trading on about 23 times forecast 2007 earnings, but there is no sign that Capita's strident growth is likely to slow. (The Telegraph)

Quite a few of the hits seem to be from Asian English-language  sources, but as the examples above show, the phenomenon is pretty widespread. And it goes back quite a while: a 1922 collection of items by the famous Chicago Tribune columnist Bert Leston Taylor includes the item

"SINCE her tour of the Pacific Coast," declares a Berkeley bulletin, "Miss Case has made strident advances in her art." The lady, it appears, sings.

Is this just the influence of "making strides," or is there some way to get here from the literal meaning of strident?


  1. Rubrick said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 4:08 am

    I suspect it's the influence of "making strides", perhaps combined with a phonetic pull from words like "strive" and "strong". "Strident" is a word whose definition is easy to misconstrue from context; I imagine a lot of people might hear something like "her strident pleas" and assume it just means "forceful".

  2. oscar said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 4:17 am

    Making noise!

    There's quiet progress, which you don't hear, and then there's strident progress, which makes noise. Newsworthy, or at least noticeable.

    Or maybe it's progress that is just humming along. Like bees and crickets, to which the Latin verb stridere was applied, no?

  3. Justin L said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 4:21 am

    I think it's the influence of "stride". "Strident" meaning "harsh" is fairly literary, and I think most people would encounter it on a high school vocabularly list and then forget its definition. I think the use of it in the examples points to it being reanalyzed as an adjectival form of "stride." It's a useful adjective, indicating "seriously impressive motion forward." I'm not sure if any other adjectival form of "stride" would be produced naturally.

  4. aaron said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 6:02 am

    I read someone comparing "mischevious"[sic] to devious on another thread this week, and for some reason I think strident's positivity in casual usage may be somehow corrolated with Trident (chewing gum) as a positive thing by virtue of rhyming. I can't casually think of another -dent word with a negative value.

  5. marie-lucie said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 6:29 am

    I can't casually think of another -dent word with a negative value.

    Decadent. Dependent. Accident. (but these have a different syllabic and stress pattern).

    "Sizzler made strident progress throughout the 1980s, blossoming into a vibrant enterprise."

    Strident seems to be following vibrant as a word getting away from its original meaning relating to sound quality towards a more general though positive meaning: strong, forceful, alive.

  6. MattF said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 7:20 am

    I think it's back-formation from "making strides", along with vague recollection that 'strident' is a word.

  7. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 7:36 am

    Strident progress aside, does "stabilizing the credit crisis" mean there won't be any improvement? The crisis is here to stay? Stably?

  8. Wordnut said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    I think Rubrick is right on. Just for fun we can throw in "take it in stride." The idea that you don't let "it" slow you down or keep you from advancing. Strident progress, then, could be progress that isn't slowed or hampered.

  9. Ethan said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 8:27 am

    This is kind of embarrassing, but I had to read your explanation to figure out what was wrong with the examples in the first paragraph. I'm a 23-year-old college graduate with a degree in linguistics, and have always prided myself on my command of the English language.

    The idea of "making strides" definitely influences my perception of the word, although I also agree with Rubrick that context often does little to clarify this.

  10. Ellen said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 8:41 am

    I think it's understanding strident as stride + -ent/-ant.

  11. acilius said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    I have reservations about your 1922 example. "The lady, it appears, sings." Perhaps Taylor interpreted the "bulletin" to be using the word "strident" to mean "by strides" and "The lady, it appears, sings" is his punning way of pointing out this solecism. Or perhaps the lady actually did sing and the bulletin actually was praising her for expanding the range of sounds available to music. 1922, after all, was the year of years for High Modernism.

  12. George Amis said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    "Strident" is evidently a very flexible word. A Google search of "strident requirements," in which "strident" apparently stands in for "stringent", produces about 100 hits, including references to community colleges, drug testing, sewage treatment, and wheelchair access.

  13. Harry Campbell said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 8:48 am

    I note the use of striding progress which gets about the same number of ghits around the world:

    China has made striding progress in printing technology.

    I've been kept well informed by mail and photos and word of mouth of it's striding progress…

    Create a climate of equity and integrity, and you’ll make striding progress with employee retention…

    He’s on his feet and making striding progress.

    This less startling use seems like a convincing halfway house (if we want to see it that way) towards the new use of strident.

  14. John said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    My guess would be that the positivity and imagery of "making great strides" or "taking it in stride" colors a person's interpretation of "strident", especially with ambiguous contextual clues. Anecdotally, I would probably have gone my entire life without knowing the definition of "strident" as "noisy," had this blog post never been written…

  15. bianca steele said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 9:35 am

    I don't think anyone has quite gotten it (to my ear). It sounds like these advances or whatever are so huge that the person taking them straddles the earth, and I think the British usage in particular. On the other hand, there is probably the idea that a person making huge advances is most likely a strident person, and so, saying her advances are strident is perfect grammar.

    In other words, the word seems flexible.

  16. Karen said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 10:14 am

    I confess to remember what strident means because I associate it with stridulate … though since spiders and insects make their noise with their legs, stride might interfere there, too.

  17. JimG said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 11:01 am

    Ho, hum, a "Wall Street analyst" uses words that convey unintended meaning. Jim's law of human behavior, as I always rant, is that people who can't control language can't think effectively. The financial state of the nation and world should tell us to expect that these guys will drop clinkers and stridently misuse the language.

  18. Kenny V said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    My gut is telling me they're analyzing it as stride+nt. I don't think it has to do with noise. Maybe we should just ask someone who has written/said this?

  19. Brett said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    As a teenager, my brother used "strident" in pretty much this way. After hearing it a couple times, I told him he had it wrong. We talked about it, and he indeed though it had something to do with "making strides."

    I can see two obvious reasons why some people may not pick up the meaning of "strident" naturally. The first is that it has no common cognates with similar meanings; therefore, one is likely to be misled by the similarity to "stride." The second is that the negative implications of "strident" are quite weak. It seems to be applied mostly to statements (literal or metaphorical) made by people. Yet one can call, say, a complaint "unduly strident," without implying the complaint is actually invalid—just that it's overstated. It can be a criticism of form, not content (although it can also be a criticism of both), making it difficult to distinguish from something with a more positive connotation, like "forceful."

  20. Peter Seibel said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

    The bigram starting with "strident" that leaps to my mind is "strident trumpets". Googling it finds lots of uses that seem basically positive. Given trumpets' (or bugles') role in marching bands and military advances, there might be a connection there to "strident progress" or "strident advances" if the writer is envisioning a triumphant, horns-a-blaring kind of movement forward.

  21. Harry Campbell said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

    No very elaborate explanations seem necessary here. As "strident requirements" shows, it's surely down to good old-fashioned malapropism, or the urge to use a temptingly similar but more impressive-sounding word the speaker doesn't know the accepted meaning of, along the lines of lengthy for long, simplistic for simple and so on.

  22. Nathan Myers said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

    In the '90s certain management consultancies made their millions by persuading corporations new and old to rename themselves by taking some familiar root and pasting on "-ent" or "-ant". "Lucent". "Guidant". "Agilent". People in bizspeak environments (places where one hears "it is what it is") have got used to this sort of formation.

    In an evident effort to branch out, one of these outfits actually persuaded a company to take the name "Jamcracker", and take out full-page ads promoting it, a name that some members of the outfit's own focus group had said made them feel physically ill. I don't recall any startups named "Moistent" or "Slacksent", but I wasn't entirely paying attention. In any case those domain names remain available today.

  23. Karen said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

    Surely claiming that people "can't think effectively" because they don't know the meaning of a word they think they know is, well, strident? Certainly it's overblown.

  24. Greg said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

    Following up on George Amis' comment, I think the sense of "strident" in the recent quote (but not in the older ones) is partly or wholly derived from "stringent." I say this because of the current rhetoric surrounding the credit crisis, which often includes a vivid portrait of irresponsible borrowers. "Stringent progress," then, would be progress that focused more on borrowers' failings than on lenders'. The "Obama has to show Americans…" trope tips the scale further in this direction for me.

  25. William F Dowling said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

    "Strident trumpet" isn't ringing much of a bell. I associate the word with partisan expression. Google counts:
    strident trumpet — 500
    strident partisan — 900
    strident leftist — 2300
    strident feminist — 4100
    strident political — 7200

  26. marie-lucie said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

    The association of strident with supporters of various causes originally comes from its meaning "vociferous, especially with an unpleasant, brassy tone of voice", but it could be interpreted as "forceful" by people unfamiliar with the word. "Ardent" (another -dent word) is another possible contributor to the puzzle.

  27. acilius said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

    @bianca steele: "It sounds like these advances or whatever are so huge that the person taking them straddles the earth"- Could it be that the reason it sounds that way is rooted less in British usage generally than in one particular use by one particular Britisher? Shakespeare has Cassius ask why it is that Caesar "doth bestride this narrow world like a Colossus."

  28. Harry Campbell said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

    "Strident trumpet" isn't ringing much of a bell.

    It's typically voices rather than instruments that are strident. Google:

    strident trumpet(s) — 530strident voice(s) — 34,000

  29. HeyTeach said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

    Descriptivist Heaven = Google indicates degrees of common usage.

  30. bianca steele said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

    Yes, Google doesn't distinguish which mistakes are made most frequently only by people who frequently make mistakes of that sort. Of course, though, those who consider the only appropriate model to be the British one are naturally apt to be extremely punctilious about their diction.

    If you think I have a specific person in mind, you're probably mistaken. Of course Shakespeare was inspired in his "wrong" uses of words, and also did it deliberately.

  31. Harry Campbell said,

    March 9, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

    Descriptivist Heaven = Google indicates degrees of common usage.

    Google should be used with great care, checking out the hits for any kind of anomaly, but in the absence of anything better it does provide a rough and ready measure as well as examples of usage. A ratio of 500—34,000 hits probably indicates something meaningful.

  32. varlo said,

    March 10, 2009 @ 10:12 am

    When the majority of the public cannot employ "lie" and lay" properly, it is unsurprising that less familiar words will be misused. I would give generous odds that here it is almost always confusion with "stride" that is at fault.

  33. dr pepper said,

    March 10, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    I actually don't think of "strident" that way. I think of it as "stri-dent" with no "stride" involved. Thinking about it some more, i find that i group it with "blatant", "calamor", "cacophony", "commotion", and "tantrum".

  34. David Gorsline said,

    March 10, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

    "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media, not National Public Radio. Harrumph.

  35. aaron said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 4:06 am

    Decadent. Dependent. Accident. (but these have a different syllabic and stress pattern).

    Out of those three I'd say only dependent has a negative value. In modern American usage doesn't decadent=chocolately most of the time? Surely the last 100 times (at least) I've heard it was in association with desserts, sugary drinks, etc.

  36. Ken Grabach said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    Brett, my connotative understanding of strident conveys to me not only that it is noise, but that its timbre is penetrating, piercing, or otherwise difficult to ignore. This always implies to my mind a negative quality. As a former cornet player, I am aware of the stridency that a trumpet or any other brass musical instrument is capable of producing. This is the reason those instruments are placed in the back rows of orchestras. Their strident tones are capable of being heard over the woodwinds and the strings seated in front of them.

  37. marie-lucie said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 10:13 am


    This is exactly my understanding of "strident", but I too have musical experience. Persons with "strident voices" produce a "brassy" tone which is difficult to ignore.

    "Strident" is also used as a technical term in phonetics, to describe the "noisier fricatives" such as those commonly written s, sh and ch (as opposed to less noisy and penetrating ones like f and the two th's). It is interesting that when we want people to shut up or speak more softly we use a sh sound which is voiceless but still penetrating to the ears.

  38. ajay said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 6:17 am

    I think strident's positivity in casual usage may be somehow corrolated with Trident (chewing gum) as a positive thing by virtue of rhyming.

    Trident may be a positive thing to a US buyer of gum, but over here it has rather different connotations… I'm surprised that it doesn't in the US as well.

  39. Anton Sherwood said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

    It's typically voices rather than instruments that are strident.

    Well, there are more voices than trumpets; and perhaps careful writers consider "strident trumpet" usually redundant.

  40. Student Trumpet said,

    December 4, 2009 @ 1:48 am

    Like some others have stated, I agree with Rubrick…

    "I suspect it's the influence of "making strides", perhaps combined with a phonetic pull from words like "strive" and "strong". "Strident" is a word whose definition is easy to misconstrue from context;"

    When I looked "strident" up in the thesaurus, the only synonym that seemed to fit… somewhat… was "blatant".

    "has to show Americans that he is making blatant progress toward stabilizing the credit crisis."

    I'm pretty sure Rubrick nailed it.

  41. Max said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 9:13 am

    I searched for "strident" after a conversation I had with a professor. Another student told me that my advocacy skills came across as agressive bordering "bitchy." I met with the professor instantly to seek assistance. This is in a very well-respected university in the English department. He said that I did not sound at all aggressive or bitchy, and that he rather appreciated my enthusiasm and presentation: that he would characterize my advocacy as strident. I was befuddled since my understanding of "strident"was synonymous with "shrill." He explained that he meant that it was respectfully forceful–a completely different definition than I expected. After reading this blog, I believe that the word has evolved and that the old definition is no longer adequate.

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