Last week, in the first part of this series on buzzwords and catchphrases of the current political season, I looked at six words that caught the national attention, from brokered convention to grandiosity. Here, in alphabetical order, are another half dozen more that have crossed my political radar.
Guillotine. "When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what's left is the French Revolution," Rick Santorum told a partisan crowd in Plano, Texas, in February. "What's left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you'll do and when you'll do it. What's left in France became the guillotine." The grisly image of an 18th-century instrument of decapitation was co-opted by Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report," who used a scale-model guillotine as a prop on the show. Santorum may have borrowed the "guillotine" trope from James Bopp Jr., an influential American conservative who wrote in 2010 that the French Revolution, unlike the American one, led to "anarchy" and "the guillotine." Guillotine is an eponym, named for Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who in 1789 advocated the reform of capital punishment. The instrument was introduced during the French Reign of Terror as a humanitarian alternative to traditional devices such as the breaking wheel; it continued to be used until 1981, when France banned all capital punishment.
Hey. On the morning of March 31, millions of Obama supporters received emails from the president with a succinct subject line:
That was just a little too informal for some people on the receiving end. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart mocked the message as a "super-casual bro-mail." Buzzfeed posted the "Hey" email along with similar ones from the Obama campaign ("Me again," "Just got off the phone," "Here we go again") and noted: "Today is the final fundraising day of the month, and political campaigns are overwhelming their supporters with faux-informal, lowercase, and chatty headlines meant to lure you into giving your credit card number."
Hispander. This coined verb, meaning "to pander to the Hispanic vote," originally surfaced in a 2002 article by Mickey Kaus in the online magazine Slate, according to Double-Tongued Dictionary. It popped up again during the 2008 election and has resurfaced in full force during the current campaign season. In his Evolving English blog, Visual Thesaurus contributor Mike Pope pointed out that a New Yorker online reporter, Silvia Killingsworth, was claiming authorship of the term. In February of this year, Killingsworth wrote: "Besides being hard to identify, the Latino vote is not a winner-take-all proposition. That hasn't stopped any of the [Republican] candidates from trying to pander to Hispanics — heck, let's coin a new term here: 'Hispandering' — by using their only common denominator: the Spanish language."
Snob. In another February stump speech, before a cheering tea-party crowd in Michigan, Santorum said, "President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob." Snob — "a person who patronizes or rebuffs people who are regarded as social inferiors" — is this year's equivalent of uppity, a synonym for "snobbish" (but with racial overtones) that was applied to Barack Obama in 2008. There's no truth to the folk etymology that says snob is an abbreviation of sine nobilitate (Latin for "without nobility"): The word came into English in the 18th century as a dialect term for a shoemaker, and later was taken up at Cambridge University as slang for a non-member of the university. Its modern meaning was first recorded in 1848, in William Makepeace Thackeray's The Book of Snobs.
Social Darwinism. Like guillotine and brokered convention, this term was revived during the campaign after years of dormancy. In a speech in Washington in April, President Obama accused Mitt Romney of supporting "thinly veiled social Darwinism" because Romney backed a budget that reduces taxes on the rich and cuts public spending. The OED defines social Darwinism as "the theory that societies, classes, and races are subject to and a product of Darwinian laws of natural selection"; the term first appeared in print in 1877 and was popularized through the writings of Herbert Spencer (who never called himself a social Darwinist). Today, it's almost invariably used to disparage an opponent. David Boaz, writing for the libertarian Cato Institute about the Obama speech, called it "a pretty nasty thing to accuse someone of." Once again, political satirist Stephen Colbert had the last word, tweeting this zinger: "Obama has called the GOP budget social Darwinism. Nice try, but they believe in social creationism."
Super PAC. There have been political action committees, or PACs, in U.S. politics since the late 1940s. The amount of money they could donated to campaigns was strictly limited until 2010, when a pair of federal-court decisions — in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission — changed campaign-finance law to allow unlimited contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations as long as those expenditures were "independent" (not directly connected to a candidate or party). The new permissiveness gave rise to super PACs funded mostly by wealthy individuals, and they have exerted a strong influence on the 2012 races. "Super PAC" in its current sense was coined by a reporter, Eliza Newlin Carney, who wrote on June 26, 2010, in the National Journal that a groups called Workers' Voices was a "'super PAC' that could become increasingly popular in the post-Citizens United world." In 2012, Carney told Politico that the coinage had been deliberate: "I very much very much wanted to consciously develop a term to avoid using, every time I wrote something, 'independent expenditure-only political action committee,'" she said. "I knew they were going to be a big deal, and I knew I was going to write about these committees all the time."
Have I missed anything? Leave a comment and let us know.
Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books.Click here to read other articles by Nancy Friedman