Civil Liberties and Civic Duties
When I read the following sentence the other day, I had an immediate “Oh No!” reaction to the use of civil:
“At the end, I was feeling happy because I did my civil duty,”
I’ve always believed that voting is a civic duty. It’s what we do in order to live in a civil society.
Of the two, civil came into the language at an earlier date:
civil 1387, from L. civilis “of or proper to a citizen,” alternate adj. derivation of civis “townsman”
civic 1542, from L. civicus “of a citizen,” adj. derivation of civis “townsman”
I didn’t expect any of my usual references to countenance the use of “civil duty,” but answers.com actually illustrates the definition of civil with the expression I’m objecting to.
Merriam-Webster, on the other hand, gives this as one definition of
civic: of or relating to a citizen, a city, citizenship, or community affairs [for example] civic duty, civic pride
A Google search turns up numerous examples of “civil duty” in the sense of “civic duty.” This use can be argued, but it still sounds odd to me.
Civil already has such a variety of meanings that it seems unnecessary to use it as an adjective to describe the duty of a citizen when civic has served well enough up to now. Besides, the two words are not always interchangeable.
Take, for example, civic discourse and civil discourse.
In the first instance we mean conversation about matters of government and the workings of the community. In the second, we mean courteous conversation without angry outbursts or name-calling.
It may be reaching, but perhaps–as relates to government–civil can be seen as referring to the broader idea of civilization and the affairs of many people, while civic relates to the more personal needs and responsibilities of the individual citizen.
Here are some examples of common usage:
civil strife, civil war
civil liberties, civil rights
NOTE on The meanings of the suffixes -il and -ic:
-il –“ability to, capable of, suitable for”
-ic –“of or pertaining to”
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