In Search of “National”
Many, many years ago when I first became involved professionally with the Fraternity, I served in a role that is now identified as a Chapter Consultant. As I traveled across North America, many Phis, both undergraduate and alumni, would ask the question, “How are things at “National?” In time, this became a bothersome question for two major reasons.
I soon learned that there was no clear definition of “national.” To some it meant the General Headquarters; to others it was the General Council. The term was used in reference to the Convention, and to some undergraduates it meant everything in the Fraternity outside the local chapter.
Aside from the confused meaning of the word, I was concerned that Phi Delta Theta had been an international Fraternity since 1902, and I thought reference to any part of the organization as “national” would be offensive to our Canadian brothers.
It was easy, as a young man, to take upon my shoulders the task of changing all my Phi Delta Theta brothers if not, indeed, anyone in the human race who continued to address Phi Delta Theta as a “national.”
Frankly, I felt I was doing quite well with my project. I was free with my advice while visiting undergraduate chapters and alumni clubs. I was about to shower myself with accolades until I paid a visit to one of our Canadian chapters and one of the members said to me, “How is everything at national?” With that my battle came to an abrupt halt, and I chalked this subject up as a lost cause.
An even more haunting rendition of this same subject has developed in recent years. Someone decided to add an “s” to “national,” so that now we hear the query, “How is everything at nationals?” The term is no more clear than its predecessor and in some ways is more confusing. Is the word singular or plural? I saw it used in a column heading of a newspaper with a singular verb. This proves nothing because I have also seen members of the press treat the word “media” as a singular noun.
I see another lost battle in the future if I take on the task of eliminating “nationals,” so I’ll not try. If you wish to be proper, refrain from using either “national” or “nationals” in reference to Phi Delta Theta. Ours is a General Fraternity, served by a General Headquarters, which was created by a General Council, elected at a General Convention.
If, on the other hand, you are a casual individual who prefers to wear his loafers sans socks and dines in Five Star restaurants wearing jeans and a T-shirt, go ahead and say “national” or “nationals.” The rest of us will attempt to understand what you mean.
My personal editor and good friend, Charles Hooper, Davidson ’55, suggests I explain to those who do not know me, that the preceding sentence carries with it “a tongue-in-cheek, twinkle-in-the-eye tone.”
Brother Robert J. Miller joined the General Headquarters staff in 1951 and was named Executive Secretary (later Executive Vice President) in 1955, a position from which he retired in 1991. He continued to serve as President of the Educational Foundation until 1997 and currently serves as the Historian of Phi Delta Theta.