The Grammarphobia Blog

All together now

Q: There’s a very, very, very disturbing trend to use the verb “coalesce” in connection with “coalition.” People should be using “coalign,” ness pah? DO something – before political discourse goes down the plumbing!

A: I agree that “coalesce” brings up images of people stuck together with library paste. Nevertheless, “coalesce” and “coalition” are partners.

The noun “coalition,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, comes from the Latin coalescere (to grow together). The original English noun, first recorded in 1514, was “coalescence” (the growing together of separate parts).

But the old “coalescence” was eventually replaced by a new form, “coalition,” which was first used in 1612. “Coalition” in the sense of a political alliance was first used in 1715.

The OED has no entry for “coalign,” and neither do The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

“Align,” meaning to place in line, comes to us by way of the French verb aligner, and is probably influenced by the French phrase a ligne (in line), according to the OED. It was originally spelled “aline” when it entered English in 1693. The ultimate source is the Latin noun linea (a line) and verb lineare (to line.)

In summary, there’s nothing wrong with using “coalesce” to describe joining in a coalition, or getting (as the Beatles put it) all together now!

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