Word watch: the verb "vet"

As President-elect Barack Obama and his staff prepare for the new administration, the word "vet" has come up often in news reports. Each Cabinet nominee is to be vetted before the president-elect can announce his or her nomination. One hurdle to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nomination as secretary of state was said to be the vetting of her husband, the former president, and his dealings with foreign leaders and business people.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives this meaning for the verb: To examine carefully and critically for deficiencies or errors; specifically to investigate the suitability of (a person) for a post that requires loyalty and trustworthiness.

The OED traces the word to 1904, and it is derived from "veterinarian." To vet can also mean to examine a person or an animal as a doctor would. Indeed, some of the people who are being vetted for jobs in government may feel as if everything in their lives has been poked, prodded and invaded. That’s a good thing for us citizens and taxpayers. We want people who serve in the federal government to be thoroughly examined for integrity as well as for competence, and we hope for equally high levels of each.

A short explanation of vet from 1998 is still posted at Random House’s Maven’s Word of the Day.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.