Cronyism comes from crony, a bit of 17th-century Cambridge student slang whose oldest meaning is “a close friend or companion of long standing.” Crony may have come from Greek chronios (long-lasting), which in turn comes from chronos (time).
When cronyism came along, in the mid-19th century, it had the innocuous meaning of “friendship” or “the ability or desire to make friends.” It wasn’t until around 1950 that it acquired a new, sinister, and chiefly American sense of “the appointment of friends to important positions, regardless of ability.” The oldest usage in the New York Times is in a March 13, 1952, editorial about “the graft-cronyism of the Truman Administration.”
Cronyism has been in the news during the last couple of months, often in connection with the incoming Trump administration.
Miserabilism: A pessimistic philosophy; a consistently miserable outlook. From miserable combined with the philosophical suffix -ism.
I recently heard miserabilism in an unexpected context: the annual awards lunch hosted by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. (I attended as the guest of a client.) Before we got to the awards, we were treated, or subjected, to a long state-of-the-city presentation by an economist from Los Angeles, which is 370 miles south of Oakland. As it happens, Dan Cohen was in the audience, too.
Whataboutism: A rhetorical defense that imputes hypocrisy to the accuser. Said to have been coined by western journalists and public officials to describe a Cold War-era tactic of their Soviet counterparts; popularized by writers at The Economist. Also known as the tu quoque fallacy (to quoque is Latin for “you, too”) or “the pot calling the kettle black.”
Behind the Iron Curtain, whataboutism was frequently summed up by the phrase “And you are lynching Negroes!”—the bleak punchline of a joke that circulated throughout the Soviet bloc. Here’s a 1962 version:
An American and a Soviet car salesman argue which country makes better cars. Finally, the American asks: “How many decades does it take an average Soviet man to earn enough money to buy a Soviet car?” After a thoughtful pause, the Soviet replies: “And you are lynching Negroes!”
In [Edward] Snowden, Russia has found the ultimate whataboutism mascot. By granting him asylum, Russia casts itself, even if momentarily, as a defender of human rights, and the U.S. as the oppressor.
And here is “Whataboutism,” from the January 31, 2008, Economist:
Soviet propagandists during the cold war were trained in a tactic that their western interlocutors nicknamed “whataboutism”. Any criticism of the Soviet Union (Afghanistan, martial law in Poland, imprisonment of dissidents, censorship) was met with a “What about...” (apartheid South Africa, jailed trade-unionists, the Contras in Nicaragua, and so forth). … Whataboutism seemed to have died a natural death at the end of the cold war. But now it seems to be making a comeback.
I also found an early nonpolitical usage, in the 1990 book Educating the Intelligent Child, by UK-born Victor Serebriakoff (who was the grandson of Russian émigrés, which may or may not be relevant):
However, we have to beware of what I call ‘But-what-about?-ism’. There is an absurd concept of morality which says that no good thing shall be done for anyone unless it can be done for everyone.
There is a Northern Ireland neologism, ‘Whataboutery’, that is used to describe the bouts of accusation-slinging that characterize local politics. When a politician from one side charges the other side with some wrongdoing, the matter will rarely be discussed rationally. Instead it will be answered with a corresponding accusation: ‘What about such and such injustice?’ Whataboutery is symptomatic of the chasm in the interpretation of history that exists between the communities.
The earliest citation I found for whataboutery, from 2000, credits a BBC Ulster program, “Talk Back,” a daily current-affairs call-in show that launched in 1986, with the coinage.
Whataboutery turns up on Twitter, too, but rarely from so distinguished an author as this one:
Whataboutery: Don't let "X is bad" distract from "Y is appalling." But sometimes "Stop whining about X, look at appalling Y" is justified.
The essays attempt no original contribution to Marxist, or what you might call Marxish, thought. They simply offer basic introductions, with some critical comments, to a handful of contemporary thinkers on the left…
Kyle Chayka, in a review of Kunkel’s book published in Pacific Standard*, likes “Marxish,” which he calls “a good way of referring to this next-generation critical political thought being put into practice by the left, a kind of functional Marxism”:
Marxish dumps Marx’s difficult teleology in which socialism inevitably triumphs over capitalism, or “capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation.” Instead, thinkers like Kunkel and his subjects are using Marxism as a tool to deconstruct and mitigate the destructive effects of capitalism as we see them occurring in the world today.
Kunkel doesn’t name his sources, but it’s clear he did not coin “Marxish.” Screening out usages like “Groucho Marx-ish eyebrows,” and mal-scanned instances of “Marxist” or “Marxism,” I found several earlier references. There’s the Marxish Academy in Seattle, a “startup anti-capitalist venture,” whose only blog post is dated February 2013. “Well, you have to admit, she is rather Marxish,”
The ultimate origin of “Marxish” may be French marxisant: “tending toward Marxism” or, less neutrally, “faux-radical.” I found a citation in “Lecturing to the Lefties,” published in the October 11, 1991, issue of the Catholic Herald (UK):
[I]t seems to me the Marxist, or. I should say, in that useful French word Marxisant, or Marx-ish, influence runs pretty deep in academia.
Of course, ish has multiple meanings.As a suffix, it showed up earlier this year in anonymish, a descriptor for Wut, Secret, and other semi-anonymous apps; and it’s often used humorously (see Oaklandish).
Said-bookism: A verb used in place of “said” – almost always a needless distraction. From “said book,” a pamphlet of synonyms for “said.” Said-bookism is a subspecies of “the elegant variation,” the term coined by H.W. Fowler (1858–1933) to describe a substitution of one word for another for the sake of variety.1
Although I was trained early in my editing career to purge manuscripts of fancy synonyms for “said,” I learned only recently that there was a name for the writing sin I’d been correcting. Stephen Dodson, in his Language Hat blog, educated me:
I don’t know if there ever was such a thing as a “said book” listing innumerable substitutes for the simple and useful verb “said,” but that concept is the basis of the term “said-bookism,” known to most professional writers as something to avoid as a sure sign of amateurism.
Said-bookism comes from the Turkey City Lexicon, a collection of terms used in discussing science-fiction writing. The lexicon was developed by the Turkey City Writer’s Workshop, a workshop for professional science-fiction writers founded in Texas in 1973. The full lexicon – which includes wonderful entries like Phildickian, nowism, and ficelle character – has been published on the Science Fiction Writers of America website; it’s useful for writers of other genres (and nonfiction).
“Because,” explicated Bob, “it was the fashion at one point. There were even ‘said books’ you could get mail order with lists of the words that can be used instead of said as saying said was discredited during that time. That's where the name of the trope comes from,” he further proclaimed.
Some Tom Swifties rely on said-bookisms for their humor – “‘I used to be a paratrooper,’ Tom explained” – although most use adverbs to drive home the pun. (“‘We have no oranges,’ Tom said fruitlessly.”) The Twilight books are flagrant perpetrators of self-bookisms, as the Reasoning with Vampires Tumblr makes painfully evident.
The very thing that editors love about the word ‘said’ is the thing that makes some writers shun it. ‘Said’ is unremarkable, unadorned, invisible. It blends into the background, allowing the dialogue to dominate the sentence and the reader’s eye to skip along unimpeded by the writer’s clever turn of phrase.
Remember that the writer’s job isn’t to wow the reader with beautiful prose and punchy word choice. The writer’s job is to tell a story so real that the reader lives it. The action, dialogue and internal dialogue are the stars of the show. The adverbs, adjectives and said bookisms are the special effects – too much and the reader either becomes jaded or pays more attention to them than to the story.
Gundamentalist: A person who goes beyond the language of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and takes his or her unrestricted right to bear arms as a tenet of religious or quasi-religious faith. A portmanteau of “gun” and “fundamentalist.”
Keep the focus on the children. This was a massacre of children. Gundamentalists will try to focus on the shooter. That allows them to make a reasonable-sounding case for school prayer: As our morals deteriorate, more sick people will do horrible things. Frame the issue around making it harder to massacre children. You can’t pray away legally acquired assault weapons and large-capacity ammo clips.
In a comment, Heinrichs defined “gundamentalists” as “gun-loving fundamentalists with an unusual interpretation of Jesus’ peace message.”
Heinrichs didn’t coin “gundamentalist”; in fact, the word has been around for more than 80 years. I found a citation in the July 31, 1926, issue of The New Yorker in the “Of All Things” column, an un-bylined collection of news items (paywalled):
Down in Texas the shouting Baptist has evolved into the shooting Baptist. Rev. J. Frank Norris has now reached the position of America’s leading gundamentalist.
“Gundamentalist” lay dormant and possibly forgotten for many decades. Then, about five years ago, it began appearing again – this time in connection with groups, not individuals, and with a new shade of meaning: not necessarily a religious fundamentalist who pulls a trigger but any person who venerates guns.
In 2007, Reverend Rachel Smith, founder of the God Not Guns Initiative, wrote in “A Meditation for God Not Guns Sabbath” that “Gundamentalism” was “a spiritual problem”:
Gundamentalism is a spiritual movement without spiritual grounding. It is rooted in the sale and promotion of violence.
Gundamentalism willfully ignores the loss of nearly 30,000 lives each year to gun suicide and gun homicide. The mantra, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” is a magnificent half-truth that attempts to absolve gundamentalism of responsibility for the uniquely American epidemic of gun violence.
Its adherents believe that nothing is as important as the right to own a gun. Or many guns. Or many kinds of guns.
In 2008, Washington Post religion reporter David Waters wrote about a Baptist church in Oklahoma City that planned to give away a gun at an annual youth conference. Waters concluded:
I see people who are products of our gundamentalist culture, people who drape the cross with a flag, people who believe the Second Amendment should be one of the Ten Commandments, people who seem to have more trust in guns than in God.
“Gundamentalist” has occasionally been claimed with pride by those it’s meant to shame:
Today I was called a Gundamentalist. I think it was meant to be insulting or belittling. The more I think about it, the more I find it charming. – We the Armed, 2009.
Yes, consumers are more demanding, time-starved, informed, and choice-saturated than ever-before (we know you know). For brands to prosper, the solution is simple though: turn SERVILE. This goes far beyond offering great customer service. SERVILE means turning your brand into a lifestyle servant focused on catering to the needs, desires and whims of your customers, wherever and whenever they are.
Is that in fact what “servile” means? No, it is not. Unlike most Trendwatching lingo—keep reading for examples—“servile” is a real word with real definitions and connotations. It isn’t a neutral term meaning “of service”; rather, it means “abjectly submissive,” “slavish,” “relating to servitude or forced labor.” Its synonyms are “obsequious,” “toadyish,” “sycophantic,” and “fawning.”
Not a positive association in the bunch. Indeed, the strong whiff of slavery that attends “servile” should disqualify the word from the marketing lexicon. It’s an adjective best reserved for Uriah Heep, one of Dickens’s least admirable characters, and others of his ilk.
Trendwatching—which calls itself “one of the world’s leading consumer trends firms”—has a decade-long record of coining attention-getting names, many of them peppy portmanteaus, to describe marketplace phenomena. Back in October 2010, the company devoted a trend briefing to what it called Brand Butlers. From what I can tell, “Servile Brands” is just a more offensive twist on “Brand Butlers.”
Trendwatching’s motto might as well be “X Is the New Y.” One trend briefing was titled “Catching-up is the new looking ahead.” Brand Butlers: “Serving is the new selling.” Nowism: “Why currency is the new currency.” And Servile Brands? “Why for brands, serving, assisting, and lubricating is the new selling.”
(A few words about “lubricating”: Back in 2004, Trendwatching used “daily lubricants” as a category title for “the fast growing class of products and services that cater to consumers' need for simplicity, and that literally lubricate daily life.” Um, OK. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of “lubricating” and “servility” can’t help sounding slightly smutty.)
Once in a blue moon, Trendwatching coins a term that catches on: Pop-up Retail (first used in January 2004), Massclusivity (November 2003). But for every one of those keepers there are 20 clunkers like Snobmoddities.
As for Servile Brands, off the top of my head I can think of several catchy-yet-more-appropriate alternatives: At Your Service, SuperServe Us, Serves You Right. Or, if they wanted to stay with the portmanteau theme, Servantage, Serveriffic, ServeAce, or Servalicious.
But “servile,” no matter how much you lubricate it, sticks in the craw.
We have a three-day weekend here in California, in honor of the holiday called Columbus Day (traditionally), Indigenous People’s Day (in Berkeley and elsewhere), and Exploration Day (according to a group of scientists who are petitioning the government for an official name-change). It’s a good opportunity to catch up on some long-form reading. Here are three pieces I recommend.
“Villager and Me” is Andrea Lee’s reminiscence—sparked by an encounter with an ad in a 1969 issue of The New Yorker—of the “proto-preppie” women’s fashion brands Villager and Ladybug. “Up and down the East Coast,” Lee writes, “in that American provincial period before the invasion of international brands, before ‘Love Story’ had graven the word ‘preppie’ into the national consciousness, boarding-school girls and country-club wives swathed themselves in Ladybug and Villager. Until, of course, the zeitgeist swept them off to become hippies.”
A typical Villager dress—which I remember well from my own West Coast girlhood—looked like this:
“Rustling softly downwards, like the quality of mercy…”
The clothes were demure, but the ad copy and color names could cause an impressionable girl to swoon with desire. The real story here, though, is about the man behind Villager and Ladybug, Max Raab, “a brilliant mercurial Jewish Philadelphian, son of a garment manufacturer whose ambition was to make the cheapest blouse in town.” Here’s Lee on Raab:
A lifetime maverick with a passion for jazz and movies, Raab flunked out of high school, fought in the Korean war, pumped gas, delivered mail, and sold televisions and Fuller brushes before coming up with the idea that made his—first—fortune. I like to imagine that he built the Villager and Ladybug concept on his wistful outsider’s view of the style Philadelphia débutantes were after when they borrowed their boyfriends’ Oxford cloth shirts. By the time I was mooning over the ads, there were over a hundred Villager shops with rustic wooden floors nationwide, and his line of upscale feminine sportswear had earned a hundred and forty million dollars. “I know women better than they know themselves ” Raab said in a New York Times interview. “The Waspy girls all want that country look, and the Jewish girls want to look like the Wasps. I knew I had a winner.”
Raab enjoyed “a long, sublimely quirky career” that included producing out-of-the-mainstream movies such as A Clockwork Orange. (Lee: “When I read that, I just sat for a minute imagining Shetland cardigans and A-line skirts mingling in his brain with Malcolm McDowell and his droogs.”) When he died, in 2008, Raab was working on a film about Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya.
Andrea Lee used to contribute regularly to The New Yorker; this article—online only—is the first writing of hers I’ve seen in quite a while. More, please!
In a very different elegiac vein is this interview in The Awl with the writer Fran Lebowitz, who achieved meteoric success in the late 1970s and has been famously afflicted with writer’s block—but not talker’s block—ever since. If you’ve seen the 2010 HBO documentary about her, Public Speaking, you’ll be familiar with some of the territory covered in the Q&A—in particular, the gay culture of the 1970s and the effect of the AIDS epidemic on the New York arts audience. Lebowitz is so quotable that it’s hard to pick just one excerpt, but I’ll try: “The memories of people are very short. As we know, because otherwise we certainly wouldn't still have Republicans in office.”
It is an interesting question, meanwhile, why the word “baby” in menu descriptions does not disgust us. Surely the last things we want to eat are babies. But perhaps once we are lulled into an imaginative world where a “baby” lamb or the “baby” queen scallop can be “resting” (in the scallop’s case, resting itself on another baby, this time a “baby gem”, since vegetables too – baby carrots, baby greens – can share in the general babyhood of all nice things, and participate in tottering towers of babies all stacked up for our gastric enjoyment), we are cocooned in such a euphemistic dream that the incipient act of putting these “baby” organisms into our mouths doesn’t register as the horrific dissonance it otherwise might.
Poole traces the word “foodie” back to 1982 and “foodist” to the late 19th century—for hucksters selling fad diets, “which is quite apt,” he tartly observes.
Hooliganism: Rioting; bullying; rough horseplay; “the characteristic behavior of hooligans” (OED). (For an alternate meaning, keep reading.) Hooliganism first appeared in print in 1898, in a police report in the Daily Telegraph (UK); hooligan also first appeared in print in 1898 in the UK, in the Daily News. When Arthur Conan Doyle used “hooliganism” in his 1904 Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, he capitalized it.
Officially, the origins of hooligan and hooliganism are “uncertain.” There are theories, though, the most plausible being the one summarized in the Online Etymology Dictionary: “almost certainly from the variant form of the Irish surname Houlihan, which figured as a characteristic comic Irish name in music hall songs and newspapers of the 1880s and ’90s.”
In the English-speaking world, hooliganism is mostly seen in the UK and Commonwealth countries, where it’s frequently modified by football (i.e., soccer). “Football hooliganism” is associated with unruly, brawling, destructive behavior. But in the early 20th century hooligan and hooliganism found an adopted home—and a different interpretation—in czarist Russia and, later, the Soviet Union. The words had pointedly political meanings: In the Soviet justice system “khuliganism” was a catch-all description for offensive behavior. The words stayed in the Russian lexicon and penal code after the fall of the Soviet regime, and remain there today.
Three members of Russian female punk rock band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison Friday after they were found guilty of hooliganism for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a church.
Malynne Stevenson, an associate professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Chicago, provided some context for this “hooliganism” in an interview published August 17 in Global Post:
In the Soviet Union and Russia today, hooliganism is legally defined this way: “In the Soviet Union ‘hooliganism’ (хулиганство, khuliganstvo) was made a criminal offence under the penal codes of the Soviet republics. In the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), article 216 of the penal code defined ‘hooliganism’ as ‘any deliberate behavior that violates public order and expresses explicit disrespect toward society.’ This article was used to cover a wide range of behaviors such as vagrancy, stalking, foul language, etc.” …
Lenin once declared that “hooligans” should be shot on the spot, along with murderers and tsarists.
“Hooliganism” is also used as a criminal charge in China and Iran, Stevenson said.
According to reporter Ben Johnson, who wrote about Pussy Riot earlier this month for Slate, most Russian antigovernment protestors aren’t charged with hooliganism but rather with “administrative violations.” The Pussy Riot case was different, Johnson says:
Members of Pussy Riot opened themselves up to the more severe accusation of hooliganism by choosing a church as their venue, and performing in front of the iconostasis (part of the church’s sanctuary, where women and other regular parishioners are not permitted), a choice that many members of the country’s largest religious group, Russian Orthodox Christians, have found offensive. Hooliganism charges can also be more serious if committed in a group, which in Russia’s court system is defined as two people or more.
“There’s only one punishment for hooliganism,” Johnson writes, “and that is ‘deprivation of freedom,’ which usually means imprisonment.”
Details about the Pussy Riot sentence, plus video and international reactions, here. For more about the Pussy Riot name and how it’s rendered in Russian, see Ben Zimmer’s post on Language Log. For more about the English-language media have handled Pussy—e.g., “a feminist punk group with a profane name”—see Arnold Zwicky’s “The Pussy Patrol.”