Wednesday, October 17, 2012

THANK YOU, METH HEADS: While it might be otherwise sketchy for me to refer to last night's debate in any way on this site, I can nonetheless point you to a fascinating etymology column by Ben Zimmer today on a particular adjective employed therein, and the multiple meanings it possesses depending on one's generation.


  1. I don't accept the premise that these are two materially distinct meanings, between incomplete and risky. Especially in context, where one candidate was saying fairly clearly that the other candidate's lack of detail posed inherent risk. Had never heard the drug connotation, which is probably for the best.

  2. Watts4:25 PM

    The word(s) I found disconcerting: "gang bangers" - the transcript has it listed as two separate words.

    Now, I do remember back when "gang banger" pretty much meant "person who is in a criminal gang." But now that the word has an equally prevalent definition associated with rape, it was weird to hear it come out of the President's mouth in a national debate.

  3. isaac_spaceman4:46 PM

    I'm going to echo what I said to Ted a few threads back -- even if the etymology is not itself political, I think that the framing of the discussion is too political. You can't talk about those particular words without thinking of the context in which they were used, and it's possible that thoughtful discussion about their meaning will color or be colored by the political discourse itself. Maybe in an off-year I'd feel differently, but it seems to me that everybody's political sensors for the next month or so are going to be dialed up to 10. Better not to test how wide or thin the line is.

  4. All I can hear is Sal Masakela talking about a marginal takeoff/landing in the snowboarding competition at the Winter X Games.

  5. Adam B.5:05 PM

    I share the sensitivity, but think we can talk about the word without getting into which meaning the President intended. I found the meth head angle fascinating.

  6. isaac_spaceman5:57 PM

    I just think that linking to a story about the language used by one candidate in a high-profile argument against the other is bound to cause hurt feelings or lost readers. It's hard to claim neutrality as a safe harbor from The Rule when the discussion about what constitutes neutrality is itself so charged this cycle.

  7. I like your comments Watts.

    Because I was surprised by your alternate definition, I checked with Wikipedia to see if my understanding of gang bang or gangbang was outlying:

    I beg to differ that the words have an equally prevalent definition associated with rape. I think aggressor or participant in a gangbang is the best we can do.

    I don't doubt that the words gang bang are sometimes used to describe a rape, but they are not synonymous with rape. Moreover, I think the first definition is really dominant -- criminal gang member.

    Nonetheless, if you associate the term with rapists, I can see why you'd think of it as jarring coming out of the President's mouth. I wonder whether it had this effect on lots of other people. One would guess that the sound bites for those speeches and their components are vetted out the ying yang, so I'd be surprised if the white house thinks what you think.... but, it might not have been something they planned to have him say or use as an example.

    You always make me think Watts. Thanks.

  8. Watts6:26 PM

    YIPES! Those are some NSFW images at that Wikipedia link!

    I guess the distinction is between "gang banger" (noun) and "gang bang" (verb).