Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Language - From Simple Noun to Handy Partisan Put-Down - Leslie Savan, NYTimes.com

Call it a vast linguistic conspiracy: proponents of the major conspiracy theo­ries of the day — the truthers, the birthers, the deathers — share a suffix that makes them all sound like whackdoodles.
“It looks like conspiracy theorists might acquire a permanent suffix in -er, just like political scandals now have a permanent suffix in -gate,” Victor Steinbok, a frequent contributor to the American Dialect Society’s online discussion board, observed recently in that forum. But unlike -gate, which merely names a scandal, he later noted, -er “makes fun of the participant” as an obsessive, “almost foaming at the mouth” advocate of a fringe political belief.
And so, in this article, Savan tries to answer this question about 'er:
What is it about the little appendage -er that can turn a simple noun into such a handy partisan put-down?
She writes:
Today’s -er groups are not -ists; their beliefs are not -isms or -ologies, theories of social organization like communism or fields of study like sociology. Nor are they -ites, devout followers of a domineering visionary figure, like Trotskyites, Benthamites or Thatcherites. The -ers, the caricature asserts, are not sophisticated enough for that. That is perhaps why -er words, long before truther, have been used to deride political opponents, as in tree hugger, bra burner and evildoer — not to mention the catch-alls for extremists, wingers and nutters (from wing nut).
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This article is featured today (Aug. 25) in Footprints: Progressive Steps--available above at Progressive Politics and by free email subscription.


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