March 5, 2015

Weekly Language Usage Tips: foundation and foundational

Posted in foundation/foundational at 5:59 am by dlseltzer

A reader writes:

I am editing faculty grants today. Here’s one for you.

The words foundation and foundational.

Is it proper to use the adjective form (foundational) when referring to foundation as a funding organization?

Ex: Foundational support will be used to conduct the first phase of this study.

The dictionary is not helpful on this but I am convinced that this is incorrect, and the proper form should be: Foundation support will be used to conduct the first phase of this study.

Oy. Of course, the reader is correct. For heaven’s sake! Foundational does not mean coming from a foundation. ‘The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded a grant to a promising young investigator. It was foundational support.’ Come on, you guys!

Foundation has lots of meanings. It can be a base of a building. It can be a basis for or underlying principle of something. It can be a charitable institution created through an endowment. It can be a type of make-up. It can even be a women’s corset or girdle. However, foundational is not that flexible. The base of a building can’t be foundational. A charitable institution can’t be foundational. Make-up can’t be foundational. And most certainly, a girdle cannot be foundational (that actually sounds right—but it isn’t). Foundational means underlying or fundamental, and it should only be used in the sense of something that forms the basis for something or something that forms the underlying principle.

Here is an example of the way it is used:

The idea of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is foundational to our ethical code of reciprocity.

Put another way and more simply:

The golden rule is foundational to our way of life.

I neither love nor hate the word—it’s just a word, but if you must use it, please don’t abuse it.

This girdle is foundational to her figure—NOOOOOO!


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