On Tuesday, Sarah Palin, wearing a hypnotically sparkly garment that sartorial conservatives might have impugned as inappropriate for a daytime event, delivered a 20-minute endorsement of real estate developer and former Democrat Donald J. Trump, who, as you may have heard, is running for president as a Republican in order to Make America Great Again. As the New York Times put it, in an excess of understatement, “Ms. Palin has always been a singular force on the campaign trail. But in her her years away from politics, the former Alaska governor and Senator John McCain’s Republican vice-presidential pick in 2008 seems to have spawned a whole new series of idiosyncratic expressions and unusual locutions.”
I’ll say. Here are some of the responses Ms. Palin’s “expressions and locutions” have inspired.
First, though, watch the speech.
The Times helpfully isolated “the most mystifying lines” of the speech, and bravely attempted to translate them. One example:
“And you quit footing the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we’re paying for some of their squirmishes that have been going on for centuries. Where they’re fighting each other and yelling ‘Allahu akbar,’ calling jihad on each other’s heads forever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let them duke it out and let Allah sort it out.”
Here, Mrs. Palin accomplishes many things unusual for a political speaker: She recites the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” and, more notably, coins a new word, squirmishes, a cross between squirm (which means to wriggle the body from side to side) and skirmish (which means a brief fight or encounter between small groups). Twitter embraced the new term instantly.
Katy Waldman, who writes about words and language for the Slate blog Lexicon Valley, called Palin’s speech a “delirious, balls-to-the-wall endorsement” (“He’s got the guts to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debated on his sleeve”), and contrasted Palin’s oratory with Trump’s:
It is worth noting—amid all the weird sexual imagery (Obama will stand in the shadow of “that shining, towering Trump tower”) and the inclusive voice-collaging reminiscent of poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera (“Thank you, enemy,” the president, as ventriloquized by Palin, tells Iran) and the tweaking of catchphrases (Republicans must “drill, baby, drill down, and hold these folks accountable” before the “capitulator-in-chief” “ducks and hides” again)—that Palin’s rhetorical strategy is pretty different from Trump’s. While both speakers are braggadocios, he favors brutal, direct expression, salted with the occasional vague intensifier: terrific, huge, very. She makes word salad.
In the New Republic, Jeet Heer compared Palin, not unfavorably, to Walt Whitman:
Whitmanesque poetry is sprawling, headlong, rambling, as wide open as the prairies with its run-on sentences, free and gregarious in using commas to splice together disparate thoughts. This is democratic verse that tries to encompass the world in a bear hug. Palin achieves her Whitmaneque effects through heightened language: alliteration, habitual gerunding, and marathon-long sentences.
At the Huffington Post, Jedediah Purdy reached back to even older rhetorical traditions to recast Palin’s speech as a series of classically inspired poems:
ECCE HOMO (NOT AN ELITIST)
Yeah, our leader is a little bit different.
He’s a multi-billionaire.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But, it’s amazing,
he is not elitist at all.
Oh, I just hope you guys get to know him.
He’s not an elitist.
And he has, he’s spent his life with the workin’ man.
And he tells us Joe six packs, he said,
“I’ve succeeded. Hugely I’ve succeeded.”
He has spent his life looking up and respecting
the hard-hats and the steel-toed boots.
He, being an optimist,
passionate about equal-opportunity to work.
From the other end of the cultural spectrum, public radio’s “The Takeaway” was moved to create a rap song that samples Palin’s lines.
UPDATE #1: On “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert attempted his own Palin-esque endorsement speech.
UPDATE #2: Palin was not the first person to use squirmish — or refudiate, for that matter — writes Ammon Shea at Dictionary.com.
This is not, of course, Ms. Palin’s first time at the word-slingin’ rodeo. Here are some of my previous posts about her language-y accomplishments:
Panic and emptiness (2008)
Sarah Palin, poet (2008)