Over the weekend, a strange Twitter trend began surfacing: People – well, white men – were posting videos of themselves destroying coffeemakers. And not just any coffeemakers: Keurig single-cup coffeemakers.
There’s a whole lot of backstory to this weird cultural moment; if you’re not already familiar with the connection between U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, Fox broadcast personality Sean Hannity (“I’m not a journalist jackass”), and the subsequent brand kerfuffle (or Keurfuffle), I refer you to the original Washington Post story about the women who’ve accused Moore of sexual misconduct, an AOL story about Hannity’s sycophantic interview of Moore, and the Media Matters coverage of advertisers who subsequently distanced themselves from Hannity’s shows. One of those advertisers was, of course, Keurig. And because a small appliance is a cheaper symbol of Liberal Perfidy than, say, a Volvo, the internet was suddenly sputtering with self-congratulatory “Keurig Smash Challenge” selfies.
"If Trump is elected, in little more than a year people will be smashing coffee makers in support of child molesters!"— Quentin Hardy (@qhardy) November 13, 2017
-Kicking myself over deleting that prediction.
Naturally, journalists have analyzed the phenomenon from all angles. (Ian Crouch in the New Yorker is especially good.) But what about the brand name at the center of the story? What does it mean, where does it come from, and how should we pronounce it?
Keurig sounds European, and it is, although the Keurig company is 100 percent American: It was founded in Massachusetts, in 1992, by two former Colby College roommates, John Sylvan and Peter Dragone, and has been headquartered in Waterbury, Vermont, since 2006, when it was acquired by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. (The company’s legal name is Keurig Green Mountain, Inc.)
According to an official history, the company name is “derived from the Dutch word for excellence” that co-founder Sylvan discovered while searching in a Dutch-English dictionary. That’s a stretch: In Dutch*, keurig is an adjective, not a noun, and it means something closer to “proper,” “decorous,” or “neat” than “excellent.” The noun form, keur, translates to “elite” or “choice.”
Hat tip: Mededitor.
Or the way George Takei** does.
Well, at least you can say Sean Hannity fans have the Keurig of their convictions.— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) November 14, 2017
Why was Sylvan looking in a Dutch dictionary in the first place? A 2015 story in The Atlantic – whose focus was the environmental impact of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable coffee pods like Keurig’s – quoted Sylvan as saying “Everyone likes the Dutch.” That also seems like a stretch to me, but the choice doesn’t seem entirely random. Historically, the Netherlands played an important role in the global spread of coffee: The first Dutch coffee plantations were founded in India in 1699, and by the early 17th century the Dutch were the largest suppliers of coffee in Europe. In 21st-century Holland, “coffee shop” is a euphemism for an establishment that sells or allows the consumption of cannabis products; maybe Sylvan was winking at that linguistic association.
Since announcing that it would distance itself from Sean Hannity’s shows, Keurig has had second thoughts. In an email to employees, the company’s CEO regretted that “the decision to publicly communicate our programming decision via our Twitter account . . . gave the appearance of ‘taking sides’ in an emotionally charged debate.”
Sean Hannity seemed to interpret that statement as an apology to him, and he offered to give away 500 Keurig coffee machines to his “supportive and devoted fans.” For now, the Keurig smashing has ceased. But as Ian Crouch observes in the New Yorker, another brand will doubtless replace it:
There is something grotesque, demoralizing, and entirely fitting, in the Trump era, about seeing Americans act out political grievances through the quotidian and joyless consumer products that populate our lives, of seeing quick coffee and takeout pizza become the emblems by which we are left to define ourselves and the hills on which we die for our imagined ideals. And it is fitting, too, that Keurig brand battle has been cheered on and magnified by Russia-affiliated Twitter bots, another example of how the agents of propaganda recognize how moored our notions of civic engagement have become to our sense of ourselves as consumers, and how easy that fact is to aggravate and exploit.
* A 2011 Boston.com story included the erroneous information that keurig is Danish.
** Takei is facing sexual-assault allegations of his own.