December 19, 2016

Cucks, identity politics, and why just talking about Trump makes him seem normal


Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch was assaulted and called a cuck by Trump supporters in an LA bar. He's reclaimed the word.

Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch was assaulted and called a cuck by Trump supporters in an LA bar. He’s reclaimed the word.

2016’s scorched earth campaign, and subsequent hellfire election, has had us thinking a lot about words. Why is what we say so rarely what other people hear? Relatedly, why have some of us become so bad at using words as if they mean something? So, anti-choice becomes pro-life, the safety net becomes entitlements, civil rights become identity politics, and, yeah, that little alt-right thing. We’re not the only ones who have been listening, and wondering.

Cuck AF — Nina Porzucki at PRI’s “The World in Words” reports on something that we’ve been curious about for a while. Where the heck did the right’s usage of the word “cuck” come from?

Long before white supremacists grabbed hold of it, the word, which has roots in the ancient insult “cuckold,” took some interesting turns in its modern usage.

This week on The World in Words podcast we focus on the word “cuck.” What does it mean? Who uses it? And how did it become the slur of choice for white supremacists? We’ll hear from linguist Michael Adams, sex columnist Dan Savage and white nationalist Richard Spencer.

“On the Media” has done some great reporting on language recently.

A story called “Left Language, Right Language” looks at the media’s use of euphemisms (“climate change contrarian”?), and the partisan leanings of words, and how they acquire them.

In “How Talking About Trump Makes Him Normal in Your Brain,” the hosts talk to cognitive linguist George Lakoff (oh, yes, he is included in our upcoming book, What We Do Now, thanks for asking) about how the simple act of talking about Trump normalizes him, and how journalists need to respond to that reality.

Some words on identity politics: There’s a bit of a debate going on right now over whether Democrats, and Clinton specifically, focused too much on “identity politics,” costing her votes. Did we actually hear what she was saying, though? David Roberts at Vox compiled The most common words in Hillary Clinton’s speeches, in one chart, and well, it seems like we weren’t really listening.

I gathered all her campaign speeches (from both the primary and general campaigns) into one document and did a simple word-frequency analysis.

The results are below. As you can see, I’ve been as generous as possible in filing things under “identity politics.” Anything about minorities or criminal justice or gay people or immigrants, I filed as identity politics. I even included mentions of climate and clean energy in that category, though in a sane world those would be top-tier economic issues.

So, without further ado, what did Hillary Clinton talk about?

Yeah. She talked about jobs, workers, and the economy — more than anything else. They were the central focus of her public speeches.

Words from our fellow citizens: We’ve had our quibbles with Governor Cuomo, but this is pretty great.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the New York Historical Society will partner with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to preserve the spontaneous “Subway Therapy” installations located in subway stations throughout New York City where thousands of New Yorkers have expressed their thoughts and feelings about the future of the nation on sticky notes.

The notes will be saved as part of the Historical Society’s “History Responds” program. “Beginning Tuesday through Inauguration Day on January 20, 2017, members of the public can continue to participate in the project by placing sticky notes on the glass wall inside New York Historical’s front entrance on Central Park West at 77th Street.”



Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.