I stumbled across tankie on Twitter last week, where it appeared in the name of a recently added account, The Tankie Awards 2018. The word was new to me, although I’ve spent some time exploring other tank-y usages, including the verb to tank, the idiomin the tank for, and the noun tankini. A tankie was, from the looks of it, something different: more political, more disparaging, and more British. And, in this 50th-anniversary year of the Prague Spring, quite timely.
“Is there a Trump firing bracket?” asked Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Turning Points Memo on Twitter. It was the beginning of March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball championship, and the middle – or the beginning of the middle, or the end of the beginning – of a dizzying string of dismissals from the White House. The latest departure: FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, two days before he would have been eligible to retire with his full pension.
All that was prologue to the latest shit-storm:the revelation, in the Washington Post, followed by other media outlets, that President Trump on Thursday had attacked protections for immigrants from what he called “shithole countries” such as Haiti and El Salvador, as well as the entire continent of Africa.
On January 5, at its annual meeting in Salt Lake City, the American Name Society will select its names of the year for 2017. Names of the year are those “that best illustrate, through their creation and/or use during the past 12 months, important trends in the culture of the United States and Canada.” I won’t be attending this year, but I’ve made my own list and checked it at least twice. Feel like playing? I invite you to submit your own nominations in the four official categories.
Collins Dictionary, based in London and Glasgow, got a head start on the WOTY competition in early November, selectingfake news over runners-up such as unicorn, echo chamber, and gig economy. (Related: My November 2016 post on fake.)
In my newest column for the Visual Thesaurus, I take a look at backronyms, defined in an Oxford Dictionaries blog post as “an acronym deliberately created to suit a particular word or words, either to create a memorable name, or as a fanciful explanation of a word’s origin.” Backronyms are rife in the names of legislation: witness the recent HONEST, COVFEFE, and MAR-A-LAGO acts. It’s a tradition that goes back to the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, whose rah-rah title expands into “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”
Backronym was coined (as bacronym) in 1983; examples were rare before then.
Full access to the column is available only to subscribers for three months. Here’s an excerpt:
After Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer announced a potential DACA deal, pro-Trump forums and Twitter lit up with mentions of “blackpilling”— the concept that the political process is useless, and that either completely dropping out of society or responding with mass violence is the answer. The idea that Trump would betray them, they said, was the ultimate blackpill.”
Blackpill (noun), blackpilling (gerund), and to blackpill (transitive verb) are relatively new, but since 2016 they’ve been pervasive among the so-called alt-right, whose adherents include neo-Nazis, white separatists, and the manosphere. The terms were inspired by The Matrix (1999), written by siblings Lilly and Lana Wachowski, in which the protagonist, Neo, is offered a choice of a virtual red pill or a virtual blue bill. “You take the blue pill, the story ends,” the character Morpheus tells Neo. “You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
“Red pill” – a metaphor for “reality, however harsh” – was adopted by the men’s rights movement, many of whose adherents frequent a sub-Reddit called The Red Pill. The Red Pillwas also the title of a 2016 documentary about the men’s rights movement directed by Cassie Jaye.
Last weekend Peter Daou, a political blogger and former adviser to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, launched Verrit, a website that purports to be “for the 65.8 million.” The number refers to the popular-vote plurality won by Clinton in 2016 (which, of course, was insufficient to win the Electoral College, ergo President Trump). And numbers play a big role in the Verrit brand, which so far consists of quotes and statistics presented on the web equivalent of index cards, each one topped by a headline and bottomed, as it were, with a “Verrit.com authentication code.” Each “card” is called a Verrit, as is the collective endeavor.
But other people within and outside the media were skeptical, or even snarky. “Peter Daou continues to embarrass Hillary Clinton,” wroteSarah Jones in the New Republic. At New York, Brian Feldman called Verrit “the product of an unraveled mind that would prefer to relitigate the 2016 Democratic primary and general election until our sun burns out.” “A sad nostalgia act, ahead of its time” was the summary judgment of Politico’s Jack Shafer. Note, please, that none of these publications could be called right-of-center.
Enough background. Where, you are probably wondering, does the “Verrit” name come from, and what does it mean?
In early 2016, when Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign was looking for a way to connect with supporters and recruit volunteers, it turned to Hustle, a mass texting platform that had been created barely 18 months earlier. Sanders eventually lost the Democratic nomination, but San Francisco-based Hustle hustles on, shifting its efforts toward the anti-Trump resistance. Hustle’s goals may be more overtly political than those of other technology startups, but the company’s name perfectly encapsulates an entire industry’s ethos: move fast, be aggressive, shake things up.
Hustle is far from a new word or concept; it’s been in the English lexicon for nearly 350 years. It comes from Dutch husselen, which means “to shake,” but it quickly developed additional senses in English, including “to crowd or push roughly,” “to obtain by fraud or deception,” “to steal,” “to beg,” and – by the 1920s – “to swindle.” (The noun form followed the same semantic route.) As early as 1825, a “hustler” was a thief; a century later, it could refer to a prostitute. Writing in the 1890s about his travels through “Our Great West,” Julian Ralph observed that “The key-note and countersign of life in these cities [of the U.S. West] is the word ‘hustle.’ We have caught it in the East. but we use it humorously, just as we once used the Southern word ‘skedaddle,’ but out West the word hustle is not only a serious term, it is the most serious in the language.”