A white stripe on a black skunkHave you ever noticed that suddenly everyone seems to be using a particular word or phrase? “Upskilling” is having a moment, unfortunately. “Overarching” has staying power, also unfortunately. But the one I keep running into lately is “[people] of all stripes.”

Not gonna lie, it’s starting to bug me. It stands out, and not in a good way. It’s unnecessary. It also makes me think of a skunk. That’s probably not a good association, especially when the phrase is so often used in connection to politicians.

Cambridge Dictionary says “Of every stripe” or “of all stripes” is an idiom meaning “of all types.” They give as an example: “Governments of every stripe (= of all political opinions) have a bad habit of interfering in state broadcasting.”

I’m not sure why it’s popping up everywhere, but here are some of the examples I’ve seen lately:

  • Politicians of all stripes, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford…”
  • Leaders of all stripes pay tribute to Broadbent at state funeral.”
  • “Joly’s Montreal residence was the target of an organized anti-Israel protest last week, drawing stern rebuke from politicians of all stripes.”
  • “Many experts and politicians of all stripes agree a lack of competition is the biggest issue in Canada.”
  • “It’s a trade publication, but for neuroscientists of all stripes
  • “The former military chief of staff said Israelis of all political stripes are united in their desire to complete this war”
  • “The thing about truly great artists, regardless of stripe, is that none can be compared with anyone else”
  • “A common theme – regardless of political stripe – is the pride and joy they take in their loved ones.”

Who came up with this phrase? Dictionary.com says “The word ‘stripe’ was first recorded in 1620–30; probably from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German.”  Collins Dictionary also cites the word’s “obscure” origin as probably from a Middle Dutch word, related to a Middle High German word.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle columnist “Chrysti the Wordsmith” digs further, finding an early use of “stripe” as a synonym of “type” or “category” going back to May 1854. “It’s mentioned in that month’s Congressional Globe, which preserves the debates of the U.S. Congress. There we read, ‘Every member of the…party, of whatever shade or stripe, is perfectly honest.’”

Chrysti goes on to say that stripes were inspired by the varying numbers of strips of cloth on British military badges and chevrons to indicate rank. “The British army literally had soldiers of every stripe. Originally, then, the expression was intended to include military men of any rank. The phrase gradually expanded to include various affiliations, as in people of all religious stripes, or an example in any category at all, as in ‘she loves music of all stripes.’”

Plain language is all about helping readers out, and that often means words that are familiar. While there may be reasons for using “stripes,” I still see it as an unnecessary replacement. What’s wrong with the simple, perfectly fine “All kinds”? Or “all types”? You could also use “All sorts,” although that’s dangerously close to a type of licorice.

How else would you say it? Or do you like “all stripes”?

Image of a skunk by Bryan Padron on Unsplash.

Related reading (other rants):
“Resonate” used to have more power
I have opinions about the tiresome phrase “like a boss”
Another overused and annoying word is “hack”