They Vet Horses, Don’t They?

For more than 30 years, we’ve heard about government officials being vetted: submitted to thorough background checks to ensure they are fit for public service. Now for the first time in public parlance, the term “vetting” is being widely applied to the background searches conducted for ordinary people seeking to enter the United States.

The term itself actually comes from the world of horse racing, where vetting is exactly what you might guess: the process by which a horse is thoroughly checked for its ability to race.

One of the first recorded applications of the term to humans was in Rudyard Kipling’s 1904 book Traffics and Discoveries. Of a military guard battalion, he writes, “They’ve been vetted, an’ we’re putting ’em through their paces.”

Through most of the first half of the 20th century, “vetting” was a curiosity, a British term primarily applied to the military, according to Juliet Lapidos, writing for Slate in 2008. The term didn’t appear in American parlance until about 1960. Its gain in popularity was examined by New York Times word pundit William Safire in 1980 and again in 1993, when he commented on the birth of a spin-off word (and profession): The White House vetter.

Until recently, anyone or anything in need of vetting had to be pretty important. Thus it’s puzzling that, a time when a candidate can rise to the highest office in the land without even releasing his taxes, he can also call for a new and more stringent process, “extreme vetting,” to be carried out against people not even seeking office, but just a new life.

Because the current immigration vetting process in place is rather thorough, we have to wonder what exactly “extreme vetting” means.

It’s not only people that can be vetted, by the way. Ideas, stories, and statements can also get a background check. In this time of rising concern about fake news and alternative facts, it’d be wise to get yourself a good vetting process on what you’re told to believe.

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