Interviewed on May 31 at a media and technology conference hosted by Recode, former secretary of state and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “spoke at length about Russian involvement in the 201 [presidential] contest,” according to a New York Times report. “How did they know what messages to deliver?” Clinton asked. “Who told them? Who were they coordinating with, or colluding with?”
By adding colluding to coordinating, Clinton wasn’t being merely alliterative: She was giving her speculation a sinister cast. To collude is to enter into “a secret agreement for purposes of trickery or fraud”; synonyms for collusion include chicanery, intrigue, and deceit.
And Clinton wasn’t the only person invoking collusion recently. Collusion has appeared in the New York Times more than 50 times in the last week alone – all in connection with the investigations into Russian influence on the Trump campaign and administration. And many participants in the March for Truth, which took place in many U.S. cities on June 3, carried signs asking for an independent commission to investigate collusion between the White House and Russia.
From the Chicago March for Truth, via Josefa C on Twitter.
Collusion has innocuous Latin roots: col- (with) and lūdĕre (to play), although, according to the OED, the literal meaning of “a playing together … is not instanced in Latin or English.” Ever since the late 14th century, when collusion was first documented, the word has had undertones of “underhanded scheming.”
Lūdĕre gave rise to several other English words that we may no longer associate with “play.” To elude is to escape from (to get out of play); to delude is to play deceitfully. An interlude comes between plays, and a prelude comes before the playing. There’s also the less-common ludology: the science of play and games.
Then there’s Quaalude, a frequently genericized brand name for the hypnotic and sedative medication methaqualone. Synthesized in 1952 and introduced in the U.S. by William H. Rorer, Inc., in 1965, methaqualone became popular in the 1970s and 1980s. David Bowie, Rod Stewart, and Frank Zappa sang about Quaaludes, which were nicknamed “disco biscuits” and “’ludes.” The sexual-assault trial of Bill Cosby, which begins today in Pennsylvania, hinges in part on Cosby’s acknowledgment in a 2005 deposition that he “often obtained quaaludes to use in his pursuit of sex with women,” according to the New York Times – despite the fact that domestic production and sale of the drug were banned in 1984.
Pharmaceutical companies are famously tight-lipped about the origins of their product names, but a 2014 article by Angela Serratore in the Paris Review attempted to decode “Quaalude”:
The name “quaalude” is both a play on “Maalox,” another product manufactured by William H. Rorer Inc., and a synthesis of the phrase “quiet interlude”—a concept so simple and often so out of reach. Just whisper “quiet interlude” to yourself a few times. Seductive, no? It’s the pill in the “take a pill and lie down” directive thousands of Don Drapers gave their Bettys.
The double-A may reference Maalox (whose spelling lacks the macrons), but the “quaa” almost certainly comes from the penultimate syllable in methaqualone.