'Initiative' is the ability to act independently; 'the initiative' is what you take when you take the first step; and 'an initiative' is a bureaucrat's scheme for addressing a problem. The first is what we'd most like, but the third is what we usually get. Government has Initiatives the way dogs have fleas - on teeth-brushing, home insulation, breakfast, smoking, number plates, getting women back to work, bright children, alcohol, starter homes, higher education, chewing gum, ending world poverty ... 'Initiative' began as the Latin initium, meaning 'entrance' or 'beginning'; it has been used in English since the late 18th century. But the modern term is an American variant. Many US state constitutions incorporate 'initiatives', letting citizens start off legislation, and this led to the use of the word for important government actions. They get the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars) and we get ... the Home Composting Initiative.
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