I’m reading In War’s Dark Shadow by W. Bruce Lincoln (having been prompted by my Unread books post), and a particular usage is bothering me. Here’s an example: “Among Russian writers and publicists, ignorance about the lives lived by such men and women bred contempt…” Elsewhere he quotes a “French publicist.” Now, to me, this is a completely un-English usage (to me a publicist is exclusively a press agent or other PR type); I’m familiar with it from Russian публицист [publitsist] ‘commentator on current affairs,’ but I always regarded its use in English as a flagrant example of translationese (like “echelon“). Now that I check the OED, I find that it is in fact good English:
2. loosely. A writer on current public topics; a journalist who makes political matters his speciality.
1833 Westm. Rev. Jan. 195 We hear of editors, reporters, writers in newspapers, and sometimes ‘publicists’, a neological term; but the world.. does not assign the definite meanings to these terms. 1863 S. EDWARDS Polish Captivity I. 78 Certain German publicists point with an air of triumph to the fact that Prussia has constructed a railroad from Posen to Breslau. 1874 GREEN Short Hist. x. §2. 752 The hacks of Grub Street were superseded by publicists of a high moral temper and literary excellence.
But the last citation is from 1874, so it’s possible the sense is obsolete. Is it? Or have I simply missed it in my wide reading? As always, I await the multifarious verdict of my Varied Readers.
Incidentally, my apologies if you were unable to comment yesterday (as at least one reader who sent me an e-mail was); the site was having problems, which have since been corrected. (That’s also why there was no post for yesterday.) Thanks much to the good folks at Insider Hosting for their response to my anguished outcry!)