By Bob Gaydos
In the category of nothing is ever all good or all bad (I keep trying), have you noticed a marked improvement in your vocabulary since the man with “all the best words” moved in to the White House?
Seriously. It struck me the other day as I was reading the daily disaster report that people — not just reporters or TV and radio commentators — regular people were reading, hearing, using and even understanding words, many of which have never been routine in American conversation. It started with “narcissist” and “misogynist,” but the vocabulary lesson has expanded exponentially (see what I mean?) since the news cycle has become all Trump all the time. I mean, “quisling,” really?
I started compiling a list of words that were previously not your normal fare in your daily paper, including some words I had to look up (using Wikipedia and various legitimate online dictionaries), and decided I might as well share them. Who knows, maybe an English teacher will see it and want to help some students better understand what the grownups have done to the world. If you feel daring, test your partner. Here’s my list (including examples), starting with the two aforementioned words, which are now household staples:
— Misogynist. From Wikipedia: “Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Misogyny manifests in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, disenfranchisement of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification.” It’s Trump’s middle name and now the whole world is aware of what misogyny looks like in practice. That’s a good thing if steps are taken to combat it, which appears to be happening (#metoo).
— Narcissist. From Psychology Today: ”The hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also have grandiose fantasies and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. These characteristics typically begin in early adulthood and must be consistently evident in multiple contexts, such as at work and in relationships. People with NPD … tend to seek excessive admiration and attention and have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat.” Mussolini comes to mind or, well, you know.
— Quisling. Turns out we’ve got a bunch of them in the USA. Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling was a Norwegian military officer and politician who was head of the government of Norway during Nazi Germany’s occupation of the country during World War II. Actually, he was a figurehead who collaborated with the Nazis in every way, including the killing of Jews and others. After the war, he was tried and convicted of murder and treason and was executed. His name became synonymous for collaborator and traitor. Until recently, there hasn’t been much call for “quisling,” but Trump, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and the guy Trump wanted to run the CIA, among others, have given new life to it. I could have lived my life without wanting to get the history of this word.
— Sycophant. While we have Lindsey Graham available as a perfect example, why not give a dictionary description of a sycophant: “A person who acts obsequiously (I’ll get to that) toward someone important in order to gain advantage. Synonyms: toady, creep, crawler, fawner, flatterer, flunkey, truckler, groveller, doormat, lickspittle, kowtower, obsequious person, minion, hanger-on, leech, puppet, spaniel …” Add the entire Trump cabinet and staff and many Republicans in Congress.
— Obsequious. Again, just dictionaries here: “Obsequious people are usually not being genuine; they resort to flattery and other fawning ways to stay in the good graces of authority figures. An obsequious person can be called a bootlicker, a brownnoser or a toady.” Our man Lindsay again and let’s add Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff and bootlicker par excellence.
— Nativist. “Relating to or supporting the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants. Example. ‘He has made his nativist beliefs known through his divisive comments about immigrants.’” The Republican Party and MAGA hat wearers who are still waiting for the wall are perfect examples.
— Xenophobe. “A person who fears or hates foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. A person who fears or dislikes the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different.” The same folks as above. Stephen Miller to be sure.
— Asylum. Here’s one every American should learn. “The right of asylum is an ancient juridical concept, under which a person persecuted by one's own country may be protected by another sovereign authority, such as another country or church official, who in medieval times could offer sanctuary.
“The United States recognizes the right of asylum of individuals as specified by international and federal law. A specified number of legally defined refugees who apply for refugee status overseas, as well as those applying for asylum after arriving in the U.S., are admitted annually. Since World War II, more refugees have found homes in the U.S. than any other nation and more than two million refugees have arrived in the U.S. since 1980.”
— Oligarchy. “A small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution. … Oligarchy is from the Greek word oligarkhes, and it means ‘few governing.’ Three of the most well-known countries with oligarchies are Russia, China, and Iran. Other examples are Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and apartheid South Africa. Trump leans to the Russian and Saudi versions, although he admires certain things about the others. He would probably have been comfortable with apartheid South Africa.
— Plutocracy. "Government by the rich or the wealthy class. Oligarchy is not necessarily just the wealthy. If a system of plutocracy and oligarchy occurred at the same time (government by a few wealthy people), it would be termed a …
— Plutarchy. Again, I refer you to Trump’s cabinet, the Koch brothers, and various wealthy interests who have been able to buy power thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
— Nepotism. “The practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.” Especially for which they are unqualified. Trump is a master at keeping it in the family (his own and Fox News) in the White House. Ivanka, Jared, Larry Kudlow.
— Emoluments. (Tell me you knew what this meant before Trump.) “The emoluments clause, also called the foreign emoluments clause, is a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) that generally prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives. It prohibits those holding offices of profit or trust under the United States from accepting ‘any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever’ from ‘any . . foreign State’ unless Congress consents.” Every stay at a Trump hotel, round of golf at a Trump golf course by the Saudis, the Russians, the Turks, the Chinese … goes into his bank account and he won’t share his income tax returns.
— Exculpable. To exculpate is “to clear from a charge of guilt or fault; free from blame; vindicate.” The person is thus exculpable, something Trump claims Robert Mueller found him. Not true.
— Propaganda. “Information that is intended to persuade an audience to accept a particular idea or cause, often by using biased material or by stirring up emotions — one of the most powerful tools the Nazis used to consolidate their power and cultivate an ‘Aryan national community’ in the mid-1930s. … the manipulation of the recipient's emotions in order to win an argument, especially in the absence of factual evidence.” Fox News and Trump and rightwing radio hosts spew it. Trump has even talked about setting up a government broadcast agency to counter the “fake news” of mainstream media.
— Brainwash. More commonly known, but worth putting in context. “To make people believe only what you want them to believe by continually telling them that it is true and preventing any other information from reaching them: Could it be that we’re brainwashed to accept these things?”
Again, Fox News — 24 hours a day of fake news right out of George Orwell. Also, Trump’s pathological lying. Second definition: “A method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, originated in totalitarian countries, especially through the use of torture, drugs, or psychological-stress techniques.” The Manchurian Candidate, or, perhaps, Putin’s Puppet. Once a far-fetched idea.
— Hypocrite. “1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion. 2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” Trump of course, but here we’re referring to evangelical Christian leaders who kiss Trump’s ring and conservative, family values-spouting Republicans who do likewise.
— Penultimate. Nothing to do with Trump, just a word I like. “As both an adjective and a noun, penultimate means next to the last. (Penultimate is not more ultimate than ultimate.)” In other words, this lesson is almost over. Just one more paragraph and thanks for staying with me.
— Dotard. Kim Jong-un’s name for Trump. “The insult is centuries old, appearing in medieval literature from the ninth century.” Searches for the term have spiked since Kim resurrected it. Merriam-Webster: “A state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise." Side note: Kim didn’t say the word. The North Korean state news agency, KCNA, offered it as the English translation of Kim’s spoken Korean insult, which literally is “old lunatic.” Works for me in any language.
Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org