Fri, 12 Apr 1996 10:32:56 CDT

In a recent posting Martin Cohen mentioned being uncomfortable with using the
word informant. I believe this derives from the journalistic misusage of the
word. Last year I wrote the following letter to the style editor of Newsweek,
and they have since changed their policy. May I suggest that anthropologists
write similar letters to magazines, wire services, tv stations so that we may
keep the word informant for benevolent usage.

"Several times in the past I have noticed that NEWSWEEK uses the word
*informant* when *informer* would have been the more appropriate word.
. . . Although clareless usage of the language does blur the distinction, the
separation of the two is still valuable--and still recognized in dictionaries
and by circumspect writers.

"I suppose that I am particularly irritated because professionals in my
discipline of anthropology routinely use the word *informant* to refer to the
people (commonly our friends) who are our indispensable sources of information
on the beliefs and behaviors of their cultures--without, of course, the
pejorations attached to the word *informer*. Frequently these days I have to
explain to students that when anthropologists talk about informants they are
not the type of people that NEWSWEEK refers to when it talks about "informants"

but that NEWSWEEK is simply not using the language carefully."

Robert Lawless.