According to dictionaries, the noun ilk does not necessarily have negative connotations. Derived from a Scottish term meaning the same, the word is synonymous with type and kind, and it’s usually used in phrases like of that ilk or of his/her ilk. It refers to a person’s associates or colleagues. Logically, there’s nothing inherently disparaging about this sense of ilk. It’s neutral.
But in contemporary usage, ilk has become negative. This is perhaps due to ilk‘s similarity in sound to negative words like ill and ick. The connotations are often subtle, but often when someone refers to a person along with his or her ilk, it is meant in a disparaging or dismissive manner.
Of course, we are still free to use ilk in its undisparaging sense, but this is becoming increasingly difficult due to the word’s growing negative associations. When you attempt to use it in a neutral way, you risk giving readers the wrong impression of how you feel toward the people you’re talking about.
In these examples, ilk is pejorative when read in context:
To Al Gore and his ilk, the weather proves global warming. [Republican American]
Obama and his ilk believe government is the answer and I assure you their intellects are no match when compared with our founding fathers. [Examiner.net]
It’s sad that Sarah Palin and her ilk have more influence on laws dealing with firearms than the president or state leaders. [Morning Sentinel]
If one were rich, if one had a sense of history, one might well wish to move a part of one’s nest egg out of the way of Mr. Grassley and his ilk. [Wall Street Journal]
Perhaps he means decisions on pensions reform, Defence cuts and deficit reduction, all of which he and his ilk avoided, to our current near ruin. [Daily Mail]
But ilk in the disparaging sense is less common in edited writing than it is elsewhere, such as on unedited blogs and in web comments, and it’s still easy to find instances of ilk used in the neutral sense—for example:
The days of R. Crumb and his ilk’s sexually explicit “underground comix” movement are largely over. [Boston Globe]
It boasted the cream of Australian racing – the ilk of Sunline, Northerly, Elvstroem and Makybe Diva. [Herald Sun]
Medinah is typical of the ilk, a vast floral tapestry laid out across rolling acres in the outer suburbs of a great American city. [Independent]
But he did stand up for his ilk, saying that “the full assessment of tight oil will be [determined] over time.” [Globe and Mail]
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