Thematic relations from both sides of the aisle

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From President-elect Obama's latest weekly YouTube Address:

I know that passing this plan won't be easy. I will need, and seek, support from Republicans and Democrats; and I'll be welcome to ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle.   (emphasis added)

This sounds to me like an amalgam of

1. … ideas and suggestions will be welcome from both sides of the aisle; and
2. … I'll welcome ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle; and
3. … I'll be open to ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle.

misread from the teleprompter. But maybe not.

The construction X is welcome to Y is glossed in the AHD's entry as

3. Cordially or willingly permitted or invited: You are welcome to join us.

As this suggests, there's a third argument hidden in the background — the source of the permission or invitation. And normally, "X is welcome to Y" means that "(Someone) cordially permits or invites X to (have or do) Y", with the inviter implicit. The president-elect's usage means, instead, that "X cordially permits or invites (someone to have or do) Y", with the invitee implicit (or expressed here in the phrase "from both sides of the aisle").

This kind of role-shifting is not uncommon. Thus grateful used to be used to mean not only "feeling gratitude", but also (alternatively) "engendering gratitude", i.e. (OED sense 1) "Pleasing to the mind or the senses, agreeable, acceptable, welcome":

1814 SCOTT Wav. viii, Enjoying the grateful and cooling shade.

And a web search turns up more than a few examples of "I'm welcome to suggestions" or "I'm welcome to ideas" as a way to say "I'm open to suggestions/ideas" or "I welcome suggestions/ideas".  So if Obama or his speech-writers have adopted this alternative (and new?) welcome-construction, they wouldn't be the first to do so. And if it was just a momentary linguistic confusion, it's a natural one.

[I wouldn't be shocked to find that this construction has been around for a long time, though it doesn't seem to be in any of the dictionaries that I've checked, and I don't recall having seen it before.  And I'll note in passing that Jacob Weisberg is unlikely to add this to a prospective list of "Obama-isms". ]

[In case it's not clear, I think that this use of welcome is somewhat more non-standard than Sarah Palin's use of verbiage was. But I'll be surprised if someone at the New Yorker takes it as emblematic of a trend in social degeneracy; though perhaps someone at the National Review will take it as emblematic of trend in political economy ("he plans to be welcome to their ideas, and your money"). My own position is that it's an interesting development in the use of welcome, whose trajectory in space, time, and society I'd like to know more about.]


  1. Bloix said,

    November 22, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

    I'm hypothesizing that the use of "welcome" as a verb is on the decline and that people are beginning to perceive it in phrases like "you are welcome" as an adjective, not as the passive voice. So, "you are welcome to my house" is analogous to "I am welcome to your ideas."

  2. Sili said,

    November 22, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

    I thought he'd just left off the -ing of "I'll be welcoming ideas …" until I noticed the "to". Live and learn.

    Someone should start collecting Obamaïsms – just to ensure that noöne complains about him being treated unfairly well compared to Bush II.

  3. Ellen K. said,

    November 22, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

    Bloix: Seems to me passive voice would be "you are welcomed", not "you are welcome". Am I missing something?

  4. Robert Coren said,

    November 22, 2008 @ 6:08 pm

    Ellen K.: I'm guessing that Bloix is referring to the etymological base of welcome, i.e., "well come".

  5. Bloix said,

    November 22, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

    Active voice: I welcome you to my home.
    Passive voice: You are welcome to my home.
    No? What am I missing? Would the passive voice have to be "you are welcomed to my home?" If so what is "welcome" in the sentence "you are welcome to my home"?

  6. Jonathan said,

    November 22, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

    The alternative sense of "grateful" survives in musical contexts – hope the links work…

    ref I like this composer's language, pungent and spicy, and the writing is idiomatic and grateful.

    ref The part-writing is grateful to the soloist: the music is written with a subtlety and sensitivity that is totally satisfactory.

    ref Most likely, Tchaikovsky's awkward and often ungrateful piano writing kept Horowitz away.

  7. Helland said,

    November 23, 2008 @ 2:06 am

    Might Language Log or a commenter parse for me this sentence of The American Scene? I don't understand it.

    My point is, at all events, that you cannot be "hard," really, with any society that affects you as ready to learn from you, and from this resource for it of your detachment combining with your proximity, what in the name of all its possessions and all its destitutions it would honestly be "at."

    [(myl) For me, Henry James' sentences are generally of two kinds: those that don't make any sense to me until I study them carefully, and those that seem to me to make sense until I study them carefully. This one belongs to both categories. ]

  8. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    November 23, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

    @Bloix: For most speakers? An adjective. The passive voice of "to welcome" is "to be welcomed" for most speakers. This is why "was warmly welcome" is so rare compared to "was warmly welcomed".

  9. Michael said,

    November 23, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

    "You are welcome to my house" sounds like a straight line to me, and I'm willing to bet people in my family would also hear it as a mistake, as in, "You are welcome to take my house."

    Obama's use of "welcome" was jarring to me. I can't imagine there is anything unintentional in any syllable written for him, so … what are they thinking? Do people actually use "welcome" in that way and I just never noticed it? Because it sounds like a speech error to me.

  10. Ellen K. said,

    November 23, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

    Sounds normal to me.

  11. Helland said,

    November 24, 2008 @ 11:50 am

    @myl: It's ok, I get it now. I was taking to comma that follows 'from you' too hard, if that makes sense. The trick is the final clause ('what […] "at."') is object of 'learn from you'. To paraphrase: The society is ready to learn from you (and from this resource of your detachment and proximity) where it's at.

    'in the name of' is the only bit that still wavers for me.

    As for James as bookwriter, I agree that he can make obscene demands of you. In my experience the sentences -usually do- make sense, but the ways in which they don't are interesting literarily.

  12. Helland said,

    November 24, 2008 @ 11:51 am

    *the comma

  13. Alif Baa said,

    November 24, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

    Obama's sentence sounds perfectly reasonable to me. It even took me a bit to find out what was supposed to be the problem with it. I doubt that it was a mistake, either reading from the teleprompter or in speech-writing.

    Then again I'm what you'd call young and from a relatively innovative ecolect.

  14. Aaron Davies said,

    November 25, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

    The Henry James bit strikes me as coming straight out of the Chomskybot. I got more coherent results with the triple-chainer random text generator I wrote in freshman Java and ran over Moby Dick.

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