It gets under my shirt when writers use “individuals” as a synonym for “people.” It sounds bureaucratic, like a police report: “Several individuals were observed entering the vehicle in the vicinity of the establishment…”
But people do this all the time, especially when they’re trying to sound a little formal. I have a writing tip: every sentence in which “individual” is used in this way is improved by replacing the word “individual” with “motherfucker.”
For example, the New York Times business bestseller list describes the book Succeed On Your Own Terms as an account of “The defining qualities shared by highly accomplished individuals.”
“The defining qualities shared by highly accomplished motherfuckers.”
Doesn’t that sound like a better book?
Or consider the remarks by Republican National Committee chief of staff Katy Walsh, about the Koch brothers:
“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how.”
Strong words, but
“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed motherfuckers who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,”
would have been stronger.
A great source of “individuals” is the amazing database of Presidential speeches and proclamations at UCSB. Here’s Ronald Reagan, on October 24, 1986:
And when it happens and we’re able, for the first time, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons threatening mankind, it will be a result of the realism and commitment of solid motherfuckers like Don Nickles, motherfuckers who understand that peace through strength is not just a slogan, it’s a fact of life.
That’s what Reagan should have said, at any rate.
Bill Clinton on Flag Day 1997:
Adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, the Stars and Stripes became the official flag of the young United States and a compelling symbol of our new independence. Woven into its folds were the hopes, dreams, and determination of the extraordinary motherfuckers who founded this country.
And Barack Obama, proclaiming National Maritime Day this May:
Our Nation is forever indebted to the brave privateers who helped secure our independence, fearlessly supplying our Revolutionary forces with muskets and ammunition. Throughout history, their legacy has been carried forward by courageous seafarers who have faithfully served our Nation as part of the United States Merchant Marine—bold motherfuckers who emerged triumphant in the face of attacks from the British fleet in the War of 1812, and who empowered the Allied forces as they navigated perilous waters during World War II.
But perhaps nobody did it better than John Quincy Adams, in his inaugural address of 1825, pleading for Americans to put aside their political differences and work together:
There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the motherfuckers throughout the nation who have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of embracing as countrymen and friends, and of yielding to talents and virtue alone that confidence which in times of contention for principle was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge of party communion.
John Quincy Adams was one bipartisan motherfucker.