The word crusade, used as both noun and verb, derives from a Latin verb meaning “to mark with a cross.” Middle English adopted the Old French form, croisee. When the OF spelling shifted to croisade, English speakers started spelling it that way too. Finally, in the 18th century, the spelling was Anglicized to crusade.
The Crusades were European-led wars that began in the 11th century with the intention of recapturing Jerusalem and other places in the Holy Land that had been conquered by Muslims in the 7th century, seven years after the death of Muhammad. The last attempt by a European king to recover the Christian sites was in 1272. The earliest OED citation for croisade in reference to these wars is dated 1557.
In the 18th century, crusade acquired a figurative meaning separate from the idea of a religious war. The noun came to mean “an aggressive movement against something perceived as a public evil.” The first documentation of this use occurs in 1786 in the writings of Thomas Jefferson: “Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance.”
For more than 200 years, crusade has served English speakers as a useful word to signify any kind of zealous support or opposition carried on in the name of the public good, for example:
Rep. Claude Pepper, who crusaded for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and was still championing the rights of the elderly a half-century later, died today at 88.
For years, I’ve been on a crusade to help people boost their productivity by strengthening their writing so they can avoid the problems that come with sending unclear messages.
Klonsky is talking about the zealots, backed by multimillionaires, who are crusading against teachers’ unions as they claim to fight for the “reform” of public education.
Kentucky has now, by reason of this legislation, decided to become educated — and we have embarked on a crusade for that purpose.
Public School Crusaders Stake Out Rival Camps in Austin
Sunday Express launches crusade for better mental health
In the present political climate, the figurative use of crusade seems to be coming to an end as it joins others on the list of politically incorrect words:
Campus Crusade Changes Name to Cru
Ministry leaders worry that the word “crusade” has too many negative associations.
President Bush’s reference to a “crusade” against terrorism, which passed almost unnoticed by Americans, rang alarm bells in Europe.
Crusade is already coming in for criticism in some writing guides. This is from a UK university writing guide:
Example 1: Crusade against crime
Example 2: Campaign against crime
The word ‘crusade’ has connotations of a battle and is more aggressive in tone than the word ‘campaign’. ‘Campaign’ implies a more considered approach.
A style manual for Christian writers offers this advice:
The terms crusade and crusades are legitimate words in most contexts, although they should be avoided when used figuratively for Christian evangelism, modern military campaigns, or any effort to promote beliefs or values cross-culturally.
As Western government spokesmen and journalists take care to avoid the English word crusade, the Arabic borrowing jihad comes to mind. Like crusade in English, jihad has two meanings in its language of origin: “a holy war against unbelievers” and “a struggle or effort to do good.”
Here are some alternatives for politically correct writers who wish to phase out crusade in the figurative sense:
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