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Election Lexicon RIP

Dead WordsEvery election has its own lexicon, or sublexicon, a cohort of words and phrases that go beyond my opponent and interest groups. In 2008, we had financial meltdown, change, country first, aloof, that one, yes we can, and other tidbits that were mostly returned to the stacks once the dust had settled on the campaign. The same held true for lingo that has lingered only as historical slogans now removed from their context—Tippecanoe and Tyler too; rum, Romanism, and rebellion; morning again.

Today, we hope, we lay to rest, not the bon mots of this election season, but its mots laids, its ugly words. For ugly they have been, uglier than most of us can remember, regardless of our political views.

There’s crooked, as in crooked Hillary, which calls to mind not only the contemporary use of the term to denote a crook, but also the hunched back of an old crone, from its original meaning of bent from the straight form.

There’s that really odd neologism cuck, which apparently comes from cuckold and is a newly favored term of the so-called alt-right to malign a politician (usually a cuckservative) who allows liberals to ride roughshod over his principles. The idea here is that the right-wing politicians are the husbands, the left-wing politicians the wives, and that members of the GOP establishment who fell away from Trump have allowed themselves to be, as it were, cuckolded. Does this metaphor make sense to you? Me neither. I deeply hope it will RIP after today.

There’s white genocide. I don’t even want to give this one a decent burial. Let it decompose in the woods.

There’s deplorables. Though the original meaning has to do with weeping, wailing, lamenting, Samuel Johnson’s footnote (“It is sometimes, in a more lax and jocular sense, used for contemptible; despicable: as deplorable nonsense, deplorable stupidity”) seems to apply to most of the tweeting and media lip-smacking over this term, used famously with basket. I’d like to think we could wax jocular here, but I am trying to conduct a burial for these terms, so best not. Perhaps we can simply replace it with a basket of delphiniums, for the grave.

There’s unfit. I know, you like this word. I do, too. Simple, straightforward, rendering judgment without seeming opinionated. But there’s also something Darwinian here. Survival of the fittest, rather than the unfit. I’d like to think of public servants, from now on, as fit, if not for their particular assignment, at least to survive. With any luck, fit will rise from the ashes of unfit, so our elected representatives might once again claim, as Kent did to Lear, “That which ordinary men are fit for, I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Finally, nasty. Women, especially, have tried to reclaim this one, just as we got hold of badass and made it ours. But it’s not as euphonious, and speaking for myself, I’d like to keep its pejorative sense alive. So let’s cremate its application to strong-minded, ambitious women, and keep it for things that are filthy, disgusting, and spiteful. Like, for instance, a nasty campaign season.

Other words you hope you won’t be hearing much after today? Let’s lay them all out here, where they can expire naturally. I certainly hope they rest in peace. We don’t need zombie language haunting our attempts to rebuild civility after the ballots have been counted.

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