Old Guard and Young Turks

By Maeve Maddox

Both terms, Old Guard and Young Turks, have been adopted for various purposes. According to the Wikipedia disambiguation pages, the terms have been applied to everything from a magazine and Internet news service to a street gang. In a general figurative sense, the terms are ideological opposites.

Originally, the term Old Guard had military connotations, but now it is used in reference to any type of group. It refers to the older and most conservative faction in an organization. Aversion to change is the old guard’s most salient characteristic.

The term Young Turks originated with the civil conflicts that racked Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. It referred to opponents of the sultan’s absolute monarchy. They formed the Committee of Union and Progress and seized power in 1913.

Nowadays the terms represent opposing models of leadership. The Old Guard want to keep things as they were. The Young Turks want to change the way things are done and don’t want to do it gradually.

Here are some uses drawn from different countries and different types of organizations.

Tea party vs. old guard in GOP Senate rift (Headline, The Denver Post)

Old guard and young turks combine for stunning victory (Headline for a story about an Australian cricket match)

A storm is brewing within the MDC-T dominated Bulawayo City Council (BCC) as the party’s “young turks” who were elected as councillors in last month’s elections feel the “old guard” had failed the local authority. (Sunday News, Zimbabwe)

[In a book about the C.I.A.] he traces the bitter fights between Langley’s old guard and Young Turks over whether the agency should use the new armed Predator drones to hunt and kill even Osama bin Laden. (New York Times)

Army rifts: Is the old guard taking on the young Turks? (Headline, (Daily Monitor, Uganda)

The majority which would control the vote would be a coalition between the “old guard” Democratic Party establishment, and the “young turks,” recent graduates of the University of Hawaii Law School. (Fighting Tradition: A Marine’s Journey to Justice by Bruce I. Yamashita)

Santa Cruz Sierra Club: Old Guard vs. Young Turks (Headline, Santa Cruz Patch)

Another “guard” expression is used when new leaders take over from the previous crew: changing of the guard.

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7 Responses to “Old Guard and Young Turks”

  • James Patten

    There is variation in the use of old guard and young Turks in the examples given. What would you suggest in terms of quotations marks and capitalization? Seems to me: old guard, but young Turks, would be right. James

  • Dale A. Wood

    Wow – I thought that for sure this article was going to be on the following:

    1. The Old Guard of writers and editors of English – like me – who believe that many things about our language should be protected, preserved, and defended – or else they should be changed carefully and conservatively. We love the song TRADITION from “Fiddler On the Roof”. We don’t want the words of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to be lost in the mists of history. We even like parts of Shakespeare’s writing, though not all of it.
    Likewise, in more modern times, we still like World Wide Web, Web site, Web page, airplane, airliner. and automobile. (Some writers want to write “aircraft” everywhere that “airplane” is appropriate. Well, “aircraft” includes “helicopter”, but a helicopter is not an airplane.” We even use terms like “atomic bomb” and “spaceship”.

    versus

    2. The Young Turks of English – ones who frequently write for publication without any supervision at all. They don’t have editors or proofreaders, and furthermore, and furthermore, they have the notion that ANYTHING GOES as far as modifying anything in the way that we say or write everything. Change things! Do as they please, willy nilly. Try to put the brakes in changes, Heck No!
    If the writings of Dickens, Darwin, Jefferson, Washington Irving, Longfellow, and Lincoln become foreign languge material, understood only by rare scholars, then so be it, they intend.
    “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought…”
    “WTF?” they respond. “That sounds like it was written by Chaucer, Milton, or Roger Bacon.”
    D.A.W.

  • Ankush

    @Dale: Very well said!

  • Maeve Maddox

    James,
    Seems to me that both expressions have been around long enough to be written without quotation marks and probably without capitals. OED shows “old guard” in lower case and “Young Turk” capitalized. Merriam-Webster, ever agreeable, has the entry for “old guard” in lower case, but says “also written ‘Old Guard.'” It lists “Young Turk” with caps, but says “sometimes written ‘young Turk’ or ‘young turk.'”

  • Dale A. Wood

    To Ankush:
    Quoting: @Dale: Very well said!

    Thank you very much! I was concerned that people would not understand or appreciate my thoughts about the Old Guard and Young Turks concerning the English language.

    As for capitalization, “Turk” needs to be capitalized because it is a proper noun, just as are Canadian, Englishman, World Wide Web, the Internet, and the Milky Way Galaxy.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Sorry, I typed “and furthermore, and furthermore” when I just meant “and furthermore.” Mea culpa.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Correction: for – a helicopter is not an airplane.”
    I accidentally typed a ” instead of a ).
    D.A.W.

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