English

Ripped From The Headlines

President Obama has been accused of “not engaging with his opponents” in his efforts to pass the new START treaty (STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia through the United States Senate.

Whether this is true or not is unimportant here. This is an opportunity to explain part of the English language.

To Engage Or Not To Engage

Like many things in English, I prefer to explain the verb to engage” by explaining what it is not.

To not engage one’s opponents is to not hold a dialog with them, to not have a conversation, to not have an open exchange of differing viewpoints, to not exchange points of view.

To not engage one’s opponents is to broadcast your views, to talk over their heads (or speak over their heads), to dictate, to unilaterally insist.

Therefore, to engage is to hold a dialog with the other party, to have a conversation, to have an open exchange of differing viewpoints, to exchange points of view. To engage is to not talk/ speak over the head of the other party and to not dictate and not unilaterally insist on the outcome.

In other words, to engage your opponents is to make the opponents part of the process rather than shut them out and insist that they simply submit to your will.

Again, it is not important to us here whether this accusation against the President is correct. It is only important to understand what the accusation is, linguistically.