Friday, March 30, 2007

Denizen v. Citizen

I am severely behind, having been in Boston for 9 days for a concert only to return to Rockville in time for the dress rehearsals for another concert. Plus, the current DD wotd offerings have been less than inspiring (so far). So, from my archives, I offer:

Denizen v. Citizen (DD definition link)

The denizens of DD need to come up with some better words. Actually, this is a mildly better word, which I might be more inclined to use. I am a denizen of several restaurants, longingly with a fantastic sushi restaurant in Natick, and now a pretty decent Vietnamese establishment, as well as a denizen of various hotels in Boston near Symphony Hall. So the only difference between "an inhabitant or resident" and "a regular who frequents a place" is that in the first, you are a putative permanent resident, whereas in second you are an overglorified temporary "resident". The physical existence of the place is irrelevant. Denizens of the internet are just as identifiable as denizens of a favorite watering hole. Now, the British definition is just an interesting legal twist on a status somewhere between wanting to be a permanent resident, but having only a temporary status at the time. As I one day might want to be a denizen of South Africa or New Zealand, both of which based their legal system on the British, I may have cause to use this word on myself. In fact, my husband's aunt and uncle may be working towards denizen status now in New Zealand. Which leaves (no pun intended) us with the plant/animal usage. So, I heard about all the quarantine laws in Australia separate from New Zealand as a result of the introduction of some type of squirrel/beaver in the latter for which they had to introduce a predatory bird which then took over, but these would hardly be considered denizens. Just as weeds would never make the grade as denizens of a garden. Of course, this word does make me wonder about its relationship to "citizen" which has quite a bit of a similar spelling. And having checked into the etymologies of these words, they are in fact related, which makes the real difference between these words the evolution from the French language (for citizen) and middle European (for denizen) both to the British legal system. Citizen was the original inhabitant and denizen is the later inhabitant being or in the process of being absorbed into the original population. Ok, I didn't expect that to be such the legal discourse, but then I never do.


Thelma said...

People should read this.

Dan said...

good stuff, but you really need to open up the leading on your body copy.. quite uncomfortable to read..

Anonymous said...

Denizen, it seems to me, is one who resides but does not have citizen status, an inhabitant only, with no say in the political process; while a citizen is one who has legal rights which a denizen does not. Alas, many Americans act like denizens rather than citizens, ignoring their right to a voice in government. One who is a permanent legal resident but not naturalized is a denizen; once naturalized, a citizen, with all the rights and obligations thereto.

Of course, there are other meanings as well, as you have pointed out, but this is the one I've been most interested in.

Anonymous said...

Denizen is not only in British law but was used in early U.S. law but was changed at some point to resident or resident alien. Obviously based on the British definition, The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 specifically outlined "that no alien, who shall be a native, citizen, denizen, or subject of any nation or state with whom the United States shall be at war, at the time of his application [for citizenship], shall be then admitted to become a citizen of the United States." Because of this, points of U.S. law may still refer to 'denizens' interchangably with 'resident aliens' just as persons under the age of 18 are sometimes referred to as 'infants' interchangably with 'minor'.