At an October 24 drive-in rally in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was heckled by small group of Trump supporters, who honked horns, waved flags, and shouted “Four more years!” Addressing his own supporters, Biden said: “By the way, we don’t do things like those chumps out there with the microphone are doing, the Trump guys.”
It didn’t take long for the derogatory term chump to circulate widely. Although some Biden supporters picked it up as an insult, the other side chose to reclaim it. Within minutes after Biden’s appearance, #TrumpChump had popped up on Twitter, appended to tweets like “I’m a proud TrumpChump!” and “Congrats everyone we’ve been promoted from a #Deplorable to a #TrumpChump.”
And at 6:57 a.m. PDT on Monday, October 26, an email from a pro-Trump PAC appeared in my inbox. Subject line: “Chumps for Trump!”
Yes, I am aware that hygiene theater is two words. Bite me.
Am I cranky? Yep. It’s been a long four and a half months. I’m sick of the pandemic, the closures, the conspiracy theories. (I am not, however, sick-sick.) I miss libraries. I miss film festivals. I miss the sauna at the Dolphin Club after a cold bay swim.
I keep hearing in my head the voice of a woman who was a regular at a gym I used to belong to. (I miss gyms.) She was a naturalized US citizen, originally from Ukraine: a large, cheerful, middle-aged woman who always had a friendly word for everyone. But after Sarah Palin* was nominated as the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008, my gym-mate came into the locker room sounding glum.
“America,” she said in her Slavically accented English, sighing loudly enough to be overheard in the next row of lockers. “Such a beautiful country—withso many idiots.”
That’s the subject of my new Visual Thesaurus column, which ranges from Rhode Island to Florida to Texas and from dog food to rum to window shutters. Full access is restricted to subscribers; here’s a preview:
In the 1950s, among African Americans in particular, plantation began to take on the metaphorical sense of “any institution regarded as exploitative or paternalistic.” In his Autobiography, published in 1989, the musician Miles Davis wrote: “All the record companies were interested in at the time was making a lot of money and keeping their so-called black stars on the music plantation so that their white stars could just rip us off.” Commenting on the National Football League’s 2018 decision to fine players who didn’t stand for the National Anthem, the African American sociologist Harry Edwards told an interviewer: “This land is not free. My people are not free. It’s a carryover from 400 years of slavery and oppression. [NFL team] owners are acting like plantation owners, insisting that any act of ‘rebellion’ must be squelched.”
Blog bonus! As I note in the column, plantation can have a neutral meaning: “the act of planting.” It’s also pretty innocent in the song “Dalmatian Plantation,” by Mel Leven, sung at the end of the 1961 Disney animated movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians. This “plantation” is a haven, not a bastion of Cruella-ty. And, of course, it rhyme with “dalmation.”
On Friday, July 10, political operative Roger Stone received a presidential commutation of his 40-month sentence for seven felony crimes. The White House’s official statement was “punctuated by the sort of inflammatory language and angry grievances characteristic of the president’s Twitter feed,” according to a New York Times story.
Two Republican senators had opposing views of the commutation. Utah’s Mitt Romney (a former presidential candidate himself) called it “unprecedented, historic corruption.”
Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.
It’s been almost four months—four months—since I first wrote about the new words emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. Through surges and spikes and reopenings and retreats, the indomitable spirit of wordy invention soldiers on. Here are some coronacoinages I’ve noticed recently. Let me know if I’ve overlooked any of your favorites.
“Survival is not recovery”—a phrase with roots in the language of sexual-abuse counseling—is turning out to have grim relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the World Health Organization reports that 80 percent of COVID infections are “mild or asymptomatic,” and most patients recover after one or two weeks, thousands of people now say they’ve been coping with serious symptoms for a month or longer. In online support groups, these people call themselves “long-haulers.”
“I have rape-colored skin,” begins the powerful essay by Caroline Randall Williams, a poet, in the June 28 Sunday Review section of the New York Times. It’s headlined “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument.” Williams goes on to say: “I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists. My very existence is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow.” And she concludes that the monuments to the Confederacy—the vast majority of which were erected between 1890 and 1950, during the Jim Crow era, and which glorify not fallen soldiers but leaders of the Confederacy—“must come down.”
One word in Williams’s second paragraph jumped out at me, because I’d never seen it before: hypodescent. Williams writes:
According to the rule of hypodescent (the social and legal practice of assigning a genetically mixed-race person to the race with less social power) I am the daughter of two black people, the granddaughter of four black people, the great-granddaughter of eight black people. Go back one more generation and it gets less straightforward, and more sinister. As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.
Where does hypodescent come from, and how long has it been in use?
Since the shocking, videotaped killing of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white Minneapolis policeman on May 25, tens of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in protest. In many places, demonstrations against police violence were met with callousness and more police violence, often military style.
You can’t have a protest without slogans, and of all the slogans that have appeared during these protests, the one that has been the most visible and provocative is “Defund the police.” On HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver devoted an entire show to the slogan and the issues behind it. The president, unsurprisingly, took the bait andtweetedrepeatedlyin opposition.A couple of his supporters escalated the threat.
I’ve been following the arguments over “Defund the police”—from “Is there a better way to say it?” to “What does it even mean?” (Interestingly, the OED doesn’t include a definition for defund that means “withdraw financial support from something,” although Americandictionariesdo.) My conclusion: Whenever you have to explain a slogan by saying “What we really mean is…”, it’s a bad slogan and you’re losing the argument.
Especially when your “explanation” uses a word like “decommodify” that needs more explanation. I don’t know who created this graphic; I found iton Reddit.
The commentary that spoke most directly to me comes from a Twitter user who goes by The Hoarse Whisperer and who tackled the subject the way those of us who work in branding and communications would.