co-opt someone

raymondaliasapollyon

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

Is the following description of "co-opt" accurate in light of the example sentence?

If someone is co-opted into a group, they are asked by that group to become a member, rather than joining or being elected in the normal way.

E.g. He was co-opted into the Labour Government of 1964.

I'd appreciate your help.
 
  • S1m0n

    Senior Member
    English
    That distinction makes sense, and agrees with my understanding of the word, but is not closely reflected in the definitions I've just googled. It is implied strongly, however, in my opinion.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The definition says ". . . they are asked by that group to become a member . . ."

    Is such a person a member or not?

    If John had been asked to become a member but refused the offer, could we say he was co-opted into the group?
     

    S1m0n

    Senior Member
    English
    You might, if he was forced to join despite his demurrals. Not, otherwise. Anyone who has been co-opted has definitely joined the group. If he said 'no' and made it stick, he has not been co-opted.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Where did you find that definition? It's not inadequate because it is an explanation, not an exhaustive definition. You have to read the whole thing to understand it - "rather than joining or being elected in the normal way." This explanation of the meaning of co-opt refers to ways of joining a group. It does not consider the possibility of refusal to join because that is not relevant to the meaning.

    It would be perfectly reasonable to write "The committee co-opted John, but he refused to join it".
     

    S1m0n

    Senior Member
    English
    If anyone was invited to join and refused, it cannot be said he was not co-opted. The term strongly implies that the jointure was successful.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    If every definition in a dictionary was exhaustive it would be a bigger dictionary than the OED. There is nothing at all wrong with the definition in the COBUILD dictionary.

    As to whether he joined or not, co-opt does not, of itself, mean that somebody joined a body. It only tells us the mechanism used if he is invited to join or joins. It is the context that determines whether or not he became or becomes a member.
    The committee wished to co-opt him. He declined the offer.
    The minutes recorded that the committee had decided to co-opt John. He refused to join them.

    Of course, if the only information is "John was co-opted onto the Ways and Means Committee", then we know that he became a member. "Co-opted" tells us by what method he became a member of the committee - he was neither appointed nor elected.
    You asked
    Is the following description of "co-opt" accurate in light of the example sentence?
    Yes, it is.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    If every definition in a dictionary was exhaustive it would be a bigger dictionary than the OED. There is nothing at all wrong with the definition in the COBUILD dictionary.

    The problem is about the different inferences different definitions allow us to draw.

    The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines "co-opt" as follows:

    to make sb a member of a group, committee, etc. by the agreement of all the other members •

    E.g., She was co-opted onto the board.

    Making someone become a member is certainly different from asking them to become a member.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    No, not really. "Make" here has no implication of coercion. The committee wants somebody to join them. They ask, the person says yes, the person becomes a member of the committee. That whole process is covered by "make".

    You have merely found two different ways of explaining what "co-opt" means.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    What does "make" mean in that definition then?

    Doesn't it mean "to cause somebody/something to be or become something"?
    E.g. It was this movie which made him a star.

    "Make" in the latest definition I quoted conveys a successful result; however, that is not the case of the first definition, which says "If someone is co-opted into a group, they are asked by that group to become a member, rather than joining or being elected in the normal way. "
     
    Last edited:

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The COBUILD definition is correct. So are the definitions in several other dictionaries, which are worded differently - co-opt (although the first definition in Random House Learner's is clearly inadequate).
    The context tells you the outcome, as I illustrated in post 10. If no context to the contrary, a person who has been co-opted has joined the group.

    If somebody is co-opted into a group ...
    That 'if' implies they have joined the group.

    If you find the COBUILD method of defining words confusing, I suggest that you consider using other dictionaries such as Lexico.com and WordReference.

    Lexico
    "Appoint to membership of a committee or other body by invitation of the existing members."
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    That is possible. The committee could vote to co-opt him, but he could then say "no". It would be more likely said as "The Ways and Means Committee wished/voted to co-opt John, but he refused/declined the offer".

    By the way, you might not have found this secondary meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.
    to include someone in something, often against their will:

    Whether they liked it or not, local people were co-opted into the victory parade.
    I think "often against their will" is wrong, and it is not supported by the OED. However, one would expect the dictionary to use example sentences obtained from the real world, not made up in the editor's office.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I think there is. The committee members may have decided to do-opt John, but if he declined to join, than I don't think we can say that he was coopted.

    Your judgment conforms to Oxford's definition, not Collins'. If we plugged the latter's definition into the example, the contradiction would disappear:

    John was asked to be a member of the Ways and Means Committee, but he declined the offer.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    As I already said, COBUILD 'definitions' use conditionals to explain meanings. That 'definition' does not say that co-opt means "to ask somebody to join a group".

    You see a sentence "John was co-opted onto the committee".
    You look in COBUILD.
    If John was co-opted, he was asked to join the committee, he was not appointed or elected in the normal way.
    That is an explanation of the way in which he joins the committee. It is not a definition of co-opt.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think there is. The committee members may have decided to do-opt John, but if he declined to join, than I don't think we can say that he was coopted.
    On reflection, I agree. The minutes would say that the committee voted to co-opt John, but the minutes of the next meeting would say that the eventual outcome was that he was not co-opted. A committee member would say "We wanted to co-opt John, but he refused". If he was speaking carelessly he might say "We co-opted John, but he refused".
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    As I already said, COBUILD 'definitions' use conditionals to explain meanings. That 'definition' does not say that co-opt means "to ask somebody to join a group".

    You see a sentence "John was co-opted onto the committee".
    You look in COBUILD.
    If John was co-opted, he was asked to join the committee, he was not appointed or elected in the normal way.
    That is an explanation of the way in which he joins the committee. It is not a definition of co-opt.


    Collins Cobuild call such explanations "full-sentence definitions."
    After all, it is a dictionary, and a dictionary is expected to provide information on the meanings of words in a way that allows learners to draw accurate inference.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    was appointed, but declined
    Yes, I would say that is incorrect usage. It's similar to the co-opting case. Deciding to appoint someone or to so-opt someone is not the same as actually doing so. For someone to be, or to have been, appointed or co-opted, the person concerned must have accepted the position.

    The "definitions" can be a little misleading if you don't interpret them in the spirit in which they are provided. Cobuild don't make it explicit that they assume that the joining did actually take place. A slightly (but not much) better wording than "they are asked" might have been "they were asked".
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    and a dictionary is expected to provide information on the meanings of words in a way that allows learners to draw accurate inference.
    I agree that is what a learner's dictionary should do. This thread demonstrates that COBUILD has failed in this case, which is why I suggested you might consider looking in other dictionaries.
    Is there a contradiction in the following?

    John was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee, but he declined the offer.
    If he was appointed, there was no offer to be declined. There's no contradiction, it's just wrong.
     
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