“This is, without a doubt, the most uninformed, toady, poorly written, categorically untrue statement I have ever seen a President of the United States make.” That’s what reporter Robin Wright said Joe Cirincione, a nuclear-security expert and president of Ploughshares Fund, had told her for a story published November 20 in the online edition of the New Yorker. Had she misheard? Surely Cirincione had said “toadying,” the adjective that means “in an obsequious manner”?
But no: the quote in fact reproduced a tweet Cirincione had posted earlier that day.
This is, without a doubt, the most uninformed, imbecilic, toady, poorly-written, categorically untrue statement I have ever seen from a president of the United States. A complete disgrace. https://t.co/9eqoWFeroX— Joe Cirincione (@Cirincione) November 20, 2018
Toady is a word with a colorful past, about which more in a bit. It’s a noun (“servile parasite,” “fawning flatterer”) or a verb (“to behave like a toady”), but not a modifier. Not any longer, that is.
The Toadies in Super Mario World are neither sycophantic humans nor toads; they resemble a cross between Harry Potter and a high school’s eagle mascot. Source: Mariowiki.
Once upon a time, in the 1620s, toady was in fact an adjective; it meant “resembling a toad” – i.e., repulsive – or “infested with toads” (“a toady cave”).*
At just about the same time, though, toads were hopping into the language in a rather different context. In 1629, an English diarist named John Rous made note of a “toade-eater” called William Utting who worked the country-fair circuit. Toads were believed to be poisonous, even lethal; to survive the ingestion of a toad was nothing short of miraculous.
I’ll let the HaggardHawks blog take it from here:
Based on this presumption, by the late 1600s, quack physicians and itinerant charlatans all across England had begun working with toad-eaters to come up with a brand new sting: in front of an enthralled (and presumably somewhat nauseated) crowd, they would have their assistant eat, or pretend to eat, a live toad, just as William Utting had. Although unharmed, the assistant would then promptly collapse to the floor in feigned agony, whereupon the quack could either make a great show of his miraculous healing powers, or else administer some kind of homemade concoction to his assistant, who would consequently stage an immediate and impressive recovery—leaving his quack associate to sell vials of their bogus cure-all to the assembled crowd.
Toad-eater Mac Norton, aka “The Human Aquarium.” Born Claude Louis Delair in 1876, Norton was a French magician who developed a remarkable – and marketable – ability to regurgitate live animals. Delair may also have been called a frog-eater, an unflattering English epithet for a French person.
By the 1820s, toad-eater had been shortened to toady, and its meaning – literal toad-eating having fallen out of fashion – had shifted to “servile parasite.”
Joe Cirincione isn’t alone in attaching the word – correctly used or not – to Trump and his inner circle. Here are some of the targets of toady in recent news reports and letters to the editor:
- Matthew Whitaker, appointed U.S. attorney general after Jeff Sessions resigned/was fired. (November 16: “a toady who has already repeatedly publicly expressed his hostility to Mueller’s investigation”; November 12: “a toady who has publicly parroted Trump’s “witch hunt” mantra.”)
- Lindsey Graham, U.S. senator from South Carolina. (September 3: “Graham, once McCain’s wingman, is now Trump’s toady.”)
- Paul Ryan, retiring Speaker of the House. (January 9: “How Paul Ryan used ‘flattery and sucking up’ to become Trump’s toady.”)
- Boris Epshteyn, former Trump White House communications staffer, current political analyst for right-wing Sinclair Media. (April 6: “Sinclair’s Trump toady swears: ‘I’m not doing anybody’s bidding’”)
- Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor, current Trump apologist. (August 20: “Trump’s head toady Rudy Giuliani.”
- Andy Biggs, Republican congressman from Arizona. (February 19: “To call Biggs a Trump toady is to greatly underestimate the magnitude of his bootlicking.”) Biggs won reelection on November 6.
- Marco Rubio, Republican U.S. Senator from Florida. (November 15: “Presidential tweets are inflaming the situation and Sen. Marco Rubio, who long since cashed in his honor to become a Trump toady, is piling on.”
- Devin Nunes, Republican congressman from California’s Central Valley. (October 31: “He has deserted his district to become a sycophantic toady for Donald Trump.”)
- Chris Collins, Republican congressman from Connecticut who is facing 11 felony charges (and won reelection anyway).
Don't vote AGAINST @RepChrisCollins just because he's a Trump toady who's out on bail for insider trading & been declared a flight risk. Vote FOR @Nate_McMurray who will protect Social Security, Medicare & put families first! https://t.co/M5VbBGJmyz— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) October 30, 2018
- Trump himself, vis-à-vis Putin. (July 18: “Trump plays presidential toady to ‘Vladimir the Great’”)
* Compare other adjectives formed from [animal name] + [y]: catty, fishy, snaky, foxy, horsey (a horsey face). Other animal words – sheep, wolf – take –ish to become adjectives.