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To make a long story short, I wrote a letter to my district senator and referred to him as a "local representative." I did not mean to suggest that he is a member of the state House of Representatives, but rather just a representative of my district. Is my use of the term "representative" appropriate in reference to a Senator?

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    FWIW, "U.S. state senator" is a horrible phrase that should never be used ever (even though one of my favorite Canadian authors did so in a recent book) as it is hopelessly ambiguous. You are either a "U.S. Senator from [a particular state]", or you are a "state senator in [a particular state]", you are never a "U.S. state senator", although you may be a "state senator" who is in the United States. – ohwilleke Jul 18 '17 at 0:04
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    This is more of a language question. Senators are representatives. They are not Representatives. – user1530 Jul 18 '17 at 0:52
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    @blip I'd say it is more a matter of political custom and etiquette, which belongs in politics as much as anywhere else, as it is a true "language" question. – ohwilleke Jul 18 '17 at 3:57
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If you were asking for feedback on a letter you were thinking about sending, I would suggest that this is a confusing word choice in that context. True of course, a state senator is the political representative of his state senate district. But it's confusing in that there is someone else who has a better claim to being your representative in the state legislature. Someone would have to look at it twice. Is that a small r? Oh, I guess that's correct.

That said, since you've already sent the letter, I don't find it inappropriate as such. It's more in the nature of a word choice that could have been better than one that was wrong. It is an accurate choice, but one that might require thinking to recognize as accurate.

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Senators are referred to as, well, senators. Members of the House are often called Congressmen, even though Congress includes the Senate. Representatives s a neutral term and will probably not cause offense.

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  • In the federal government, as a matter of etiquette and practical reality, U.S. Senators take offense at being called Representatives and also take offense at being called Congressmen, even though the former is true in the little "r" sense and the latter is true de jure. – ohwilleke Jul 18 '17 at 0:00

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