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A Devil's Dictionary of Politics | The Nation

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A Devil's Dictionary of Politics

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With the new importance of the Internet in the 2008 election and the expected millions of first-time voters, many of whom are young, there has never been a greater need for misinformation.

About the Author

Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...

Also by the Author

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"The 2008 Election Lexicon" has been assembled to make available in one place a larger collection of unreliable and inaccurate facts relating to politics than can be found anywhere else, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

First-time users of the lexicon should be aware that reliance on its content in making barroom bets can result in significant losses, for which the compilers cannot be responsible. Nevertheless,

psephologists

(for which see below) say that voters who have the foresight to bring the lexicon to the polls as an Election Day aid will find it perfectly useless.

agent of change 1.

Title claimed by politicians when there is an uptick in the unemployment numbers.

2.

A well-placed stick of dynamite.

American

 A delicate voter whom politicians know they had best lie to.

ANWAR 1.

Sometimes erroneously construed to be a call to end war as in "ANWAR NOW!" and also confused with Saeed Anwar (1968 - ), the Pakistani cricket player famous for "lifting a ball pitched outside off stump for six over midwicket."

2.

Acronym for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where a wide variety of boreal fauna live healthy, government-protected lives sustaining themselves on the many naturally occurring petroleum lakes in the region.

aspiration

also,

aspirational

 Aspiration is used when the speaker wishes to induce his listeners to gulp or experience gooseflesh. Example: "A vote for me brings us a step closer to realizing the aspirations of the American people." Aspirational, a lofty word foreign to standard English, is also used with goose-fleshy intent, although it has no known meaning.

base (the)

 The hardcore, rule or ruin, snarling, spit-spewing fanatics who constitute the center of the two major political parties.

Betty Ford Clinic

 Also known as the House of Absolution. When politicians are discovered having accepted a 200-foot yacht or a Maybach costing a half-million dollars or it is discovered that a politician has put a lover on the government payroll, the exposed official steps before the microphones with or without offended mate to explain that he or she was drunk or drugged at the time and has made plans to take the 5:30 flight to the Betty Ford Clinic for chemical, psychological and political rehabilitation. The Clinic does not expressly guarantee that a course of its expensive services will protect the patient or miscreant from a federal indictment, but the warranty is implied.

blog

 A public urinal.

blogger 1.

an electronic bloviator.

2.

An opinionated twit.

bloviate

 Coinage sometimes attributed to Warren G. Harding (1865-1923), ranked as worst President until recently. A verb meaning to speak pompously, to drone on, to be prolix, wordy or tedious. Also

bloviator

and

bloviation

, which is thought to endanger politicians' health. "It's those kinds of words, the kind they use in speeches. They have a fermenting effect on the brain. You can see it on television during the political broadcasts--the words come out of their mouths like bubbles of gas."  --Margaret Atwood

brand 1.

Mark made by a branding iron to establish identity of livestock or criminals.

2.

The same, but without the hot iron for commercial enterprises.

3.

The value of reputation in politics, something that Cassio, a fifteenth-century politician of sorts, knew when moved to exclaim:
Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost
 my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of
 myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation,
 Iago, my reputation!   --
Othello, Act II, Scene III

bundle

(noun and verb) also

bundler

and

bundling

. 

1

An Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch courtship ritual during which the boy spends the night in bed with the girl with a wooden board separating them.

2.

In politics, bundling or baling money and giving it to politicians out of crystalline idealism or in return for favors to be rendered. It does not carry the same clear distinctions found among the Pennsylvania Dutch.

caucus

 A word of unknown origin dating back to pre-revolutionary times that has come to mean a closed meeting at which politicians make decisions, strike deals and exchange favors and the import of which makes itself known when the public opens its tax bills or sees its electricity rates jump.

challenge

 The word politicians, chamber of commerce executives and school teachers use instead of the word "problem." In politics there are no problems, only challenges and opportunities, an approach to life and government which is in itself something of a problem.

chad 1.

Short for the name Chadwick.

2.

a tiny piece of paper gumming up a voting-machine tally as in a "hanging chad," which can also refer to a small boy of the same name dangling from the limb of an oak tree.

change 1.

A new word for old promises.

2.

a kick in the gut.

class warfare 1.

Something that happened in Europe a long time ago.

2.

playground dust-up between third- and fourth-graders.

coat-holder

 An apprentice

yes-person

(for which see below).

core values 1.

The really, really, really, really valuable values of a person running for public office. cf, values, non-core.

diversity

 Collective noun for the infinite number of jealous, prickly or quarreling ethnic, linguistic, racial, religious groups and sexually oriented or disoriented groups who try to impose their demands on candidates and office-holders. Diversity has no public critics in the United States, where it is considered an unalloyed blessing, an opinion not shared in nations as diverse as Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, Russia, Iraq and China.

door-opener

 Synonym for

coat-holder

(for which see above).

earmark

(noun and verb) 

1

A small metal tag affixed to the ear to show the ownership of a pig.

2.

The secret insertion into a bill of a pet appropriation (or pork) by a Congressional boar or sow for a constituent.

Electoral College

 Located in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, established in 1789 by Fitzhue Elector (1732-1804), a rich slave-owner, with an exclusive student body of 538, the college is best known for its mock election held every four years.

elite (the) 1.

Anglophiles or free-traders.

2.

Those with more money and influence than the person cussing them out.

3.

Individuals of ability and accomplishment (rare usage);

4.

The fancy-pants class, when used with the definite article as in Byron's poem:
With other countesses of Blank--but rank,
 At once the "lie" and the "elite" of crowds
 Who pass like water filter'd in a tank,
 All purged and pious from their native clouds--
   --
Don Juan, Canto LXXX

empower 1.

To bestow an aureole on someone, usually female.

2.

To empower oneself or be empowered.

3.

To delude oneself or others.

entourage

 Not counting

door-openers

and coat-holders, a politician of minimal stature will have in his or her traveling personnel cloud at least two outriding body guards, a scheduler, an administrative assistant, a sour person with a clip board, several people with laminated ID cards on a chain around their necks who seem to be walking at an officious clip even when standing still and an intern or two.

entrenched 1.

Anyone or anything bigger, richer or more powerful than the speaker.

2.

An object of envy, as in the entrench oil corporations.

faith-based

 An activity or program done at low cost by dedicated religious volunteers for organizations such as Catholic Charities, Hamas, Habitat for Humanity, the Taliban, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ROKPA (Buddhist), Tamil Tigers, Salvation Army, Hezbollah, Luther League, 96th Street YMHA and Al Qaeda.

flag (the)

 An indispensable item of clothing for those running for office.

flip-flop 1.

To change one's mind too often.

2.

To use a spatula to fling a pancake in the air (the flip) and then to fail to catch it (the flop).

funded

 A way to avoid saying "paid for."

goo-goo 1.

(pediatrics) Baby talk.

2.

(amour) The now-obsolete phrase "goo-goo eyes".

3.

Derisive term for stiff-necked, snooty, well-heeled advocates of good government. Although of great use in political discourse, the expression has become nearly obsolete.

grassroots

 A clutch of voters who must be energized at election time by applications of Scott Turf Builder.

gravitas 1.

A quality denoting someone dull, repetitive and boring enough to be considered for higher office.

2.

a politician who appears to have a heavy load in his/her pants.

green

 Worthy of vague approbation, fashionable, healthy, politically desirable when applied to inanimate objects such as buildings, factories or vehicles and, derivatively,

greenie 1.

A small person who makes his home under the leaves of a verdant plant.

2.

A Nature worshipper or pressure group member.

3.

The name of a treat for cats and dogs.

historic

 An act or locution which a political group or a television network makes a fuss over.

hubris

 Pride. An ancient Attic Greek word, ssaneo, taken up by politicians and journalists who mistakenly believe using it conveys the impression that they are literate.

hypocrite

 A politician who has given two different opinions on the same topic. Voters, bloggers and editorialists disagree with Ralph Waldo Emerson's observation, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do."

ideologue 1.

A churl, a stubborn fellow, a tunnel-visioned lout. An ideo's logue cannot be rolled as in

log-rolling

, or swapping favors, as per nineteenth-century political slang.

2.

Ill-mannered person who insists on telling the truth.

influence peddler

 Political holy people, dressed in rags, frequenting Washington and state capitals. Politicians look on them as persons deserving special protection for their work of buying, selling and trading favors, the profits from which are given to the poor.

initiative

 Innovation.

innocent victim 1.

A fetus.

2.

the mother of a fetus.

3.

A member of a powerful affinity group. There are no just plain victim-victims and no guilty victims in politics.

innovation 1.

A cure-all ointment.

2.

A word used by American politicians when baffled and no idea suggests itself.

Internet 1.

Exciting new way for young people to win elections and meet persons of the opposite sex.

2.

A hair covering worn by fast-food workers.

3.

Fishnet used to collect campaign contributions.

Jacobin

 Late-eighteenth-century terrorist political party advocating chopping the heads off of their opponents. Although a mere shadow of its former self, domestic intelligence units report scattered Jacobin cells underground in Montana and moling into the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Links with Al Qaeda have not been confirmed.

K Street 1.

Location of Washington's largest lobbying firms.

2.

Retirement home for former office-holders who have chosen to cash in their IOUs.

leadership 1.

A title used by politicians when addressing each other. Example: "I want to thank the chair, Senator X, Representative Y or Governor Z for his/her outstanding leadership."

2.

An undefinable but immediately recognized quality the common horde yearns for. Examples of persons with leadership qualities include George Washington, Mao Zedong, Mahatma Gandhi, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King Jr., Napoleon, Vladimir Lenin and Hillary Clinton. With leadership you never know what you got until you got it.

legacy

 The body of crimes, mistakes, stupidities and blunders concealed in a presidential library.

lobbyist 1.

Homeless person who resides in office building lobbies.

2.

One who petitions important people on behalf of the homeless in lobbies or other public places.

3.

A public benefactor.

long term

(noun),

long-term

(adj.) Sometimes mistakenly taken to refer to the duration a politician hopes to be in office. The true reference, as in long-term problem, condition, situation or challenge is to something the speaker has no intention of doing anything about.

lying politician

 This is not one word. Lying is a necessary tool of governance. Masters of the craft seldom lie, thus building up a reputation for honesty, which makes them the more believable when the time comes to blow smoke up the public's nether orifice.

mainstream media (MSM)

 Similar to, but not quite so bad as, "the media," for which see.

McCain-Feingold

 The name of the most recent law intended to kick big money out of politics. The kicking has been going on since Theodore Roosevelt's time a century ago, with nothing to show for it other than noise and indignation. Money is like water: it finds a way to go where it wants to be going.

media, the

(always used with the definite article) 

1

The common enemy.

2.

The name of a conspiracy.

middle class

 All those registered to vote; the entire population above the poverty line. Examples of famous middle-class persons are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

mispeak

 To be caught in a lie.

money 1.

A non-word never spoken within earshot of a voter.

2.

"The mother's milk of politics," attributed to Jesse Unruh, (1922-1987) California Democratic Party figure, who is also supposed to have remarked when a member of the state legislature that, "If you can't take their money, drink their liquor, fuck their women, and then come in here the next day and vote against them, you don't belong here."

Nelson, Gaylord

 (1916-2005) American senator, founder of Earth Day. Best known quote in re voters: "For five years they kiss my ass and every sixth year I kiss theirs."

netroots 1.

Persons summoned via the Internet to virtual meetings of their political covens.

2.

Persons who can be electronically induced to give money to and work for political candidates about whom they know nothing and who are inimical to their interests.

new Manhattan Project

 Hortatory ejaculation employed prior to calling for the expenditure of an extremely large sum of money very fast.

non-partisan

 Non-partisan for whom?

non-political

 Non-political has the same relationship to actuality as does a griffon, a minotaur, a unicorn, a centaur, a sphinx or the half-goat boy Pan. Proper usage dictates the word should only be used to evoke loud peals of the most raucous laughter.

non-profit

 A tax-exempt endeavor without shareholders, whose income thus goes to its top officers.

out of context

 Anything a politician regrets having said.

October surprise 1.

Nasty trick delivered shortly before election day.

2.

Pumpkin pie with rum and whipped cream topping.

on message

 The imbecilic repetition of a single sound bite by a candidate or office holder. The effect on the body politic has been likened to the sensation caused by a dentist's drill on an unanesthezed patient.

partisan 1.

Of or pertaining to a party or, by extension, a set of its beliefs [obsolete].

2.

bad, selfish, ill-willed, wickedly motivated. Usually used with the adjective

purely

. Example: "After two days of apologies, prosecutor-turned-Governor Eliot Spitzer on Wednesday criticized as 'purely partisan' a call for more investigation into his administration."--New York Daily News, July 25, 2007.

patriotism

 In addition to its being the last refuge of scoundrels, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) also said, "A man sometimes starts up a patriot, only by disseminating discontent, and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights, and encroaching usurpation. This practice is no certain note of patriotism. To instigate the populace with rage beyond the provocation, is to suspend publick happiness, if not to destroy it. He is no lover of his country, that unnecessarily disturbs its peace. Few errours and few faults of government, can justify an appeal to the rabble; who ought not to judge of what they cannot understand, and whose opinions are not propagated by reason, but caught by contagion."

political 1.

A dirty or disreputable action.

2.

An unsavory motivation or sinister hidden agenda.

political convention 1.

An out-of-date political gathering with no business to transact other than to spend the millions of dollars the federal government and large corporations donate to pay for this quadrennial frolic.

2.

Second of three methods in American history for choosing presidential nominees. The first was by caucus in the federal period. The convention system arose in the 1.840s and has been eclipsed by the presidential primary. Today, the primary winner picks the vice presidential nominee and dictates the party platform, work once performed by conventions.

3.

A convocation of hookers, bagmen, press agents, job seekers, lobbyists, grafters, deal-makers and deal-breakers, ambitious interns, three card monte operators, inebriates, corporate executives, gas bags, demented idealists, boodle masters and freeloading journalists off on a lark.

politically correct

 Opinions expressed by people coerced to speak by threat of public stoning.

politically incorrect

 Opinions unexpressed by people coerced into silence by threat of public stoning.

poor (the) 1

Impecunious persons inclined not to vote.

2.

A group without whom it would be impossible to distinguish the rich.

3.

Lazy parasitical individuals without the wherewithal to obtain tax loopholes for themselves.

populist, populism

 The word derives from the Populist Party of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The "Pops," as they were nicknamed, were mostly Western and Southern farmers enraged at their treatment by the railroads, Wall Street and ruinous interest rates. For a brief moment the Pops appeared to have forged an interracial coalition that might sweep to power, but Republicans and Democrats united against them and the danger passed with the election of William McKinley in 1.896. Ever since, a populist is a pejorative term for person who pays a little too much heed to the needs and demands of the masses.

post-partisan

 A condition achieved after escaping from the endless cycle of partisan bickering or samsara and the attaining of nirvana, a state of perfect political amity. Post-partisan politicians are readily identified by the golden haze surrounding their heads.

psephologist

 From the word psephos, meaning pebble. The Athenians (very old Greeks who invented democracy) concerned about hanging

chads

(for which see above), lack of a papyrus trail in their voting machines and tampering with touch-screens, used pebbles for ballots, red ones for Republicans and blue ones for Democrats. Hence psephologist, or pebbleoligist, one who stuffs ballot boxes with rocks.

quick fix, silver and/or magic bullet

 Phrases used by politicians who have no idea what to do next and will, if elected, do something they and the country will regret.

recycle 1.

Second-hand velocipede.

2.

Defeated politician trying to make a comeback.

3.

An old, bad idea retrieved from the dustbin for lack of a new, bad idea.

renewable 1.

library cards.

2.

Chewing gum.

3.

The faces of aging politicians and TV personalities.

resources

 Euphemism for money.

running to the right, left and center

 In primaries, Republicans run rightward as monarchists and Democrats run leftward as Bolsheviks. In general elections, both exchange political clothing and run to the center, trying to look like their opponents. If a candidate has executed the maneuver correctly, it is impossible to know what he or she stands for or guess what he may do in office.

sending a man to the moon

 An expression used before proposing a showy, ill-conceived, impractical and publicly financed scheme.

slime

 To kowtow to, slobber over, flatter, fawn, pander to, cringe in front of, drool upon, over-praise, exaggerate the merits of, ascribe nonexistent qualities to a

slur

-sensitive group, for which see below.

slur

 To make an invidious remark in regard to persons belonging to a racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, linguistic, handicapped, depressed or national group. Slur-sensitive groups include the obese (formerly known as fat), the too-talls (formerly known as the skinny), the too-smalls (previously called shrimps), the perverse, the young, senior citizens (once referred to as old), the grouchy and the oppressed, a category containing hundreds of subgroups but not including the abused, who regard being classified as a subgroup as a form of abuse. Absent-mindedly uttering a slur into a hot microphone can be a career-ender, unless the Betty Ford ploy can be used. Even so, any politician who has not been accused of uttering a slur is a scoundrel. Cf

slime

.

special interest

 The political agenda of a group whose power and influence is inversely proportional to its size. Antonym: general interest.

speaking truth to power

 A politician asking for a campaign contribution from an important lobbying group.

spin

(verb and noun) Rapid rotation of unwary persons to cause vertigo and disorientation, resulting in their ingestion of political poppycock.

sound bite

 A wound inflicted by a politician on a voter.

spokesperson

 Professional prevaricator.

status measurement

or

scale of personal importance

 Example: A politician with four black SUVs following him or her is more important than a politician with three SUVs, but a politician with three following SUVs and one preceding SUV has more status than one with four following. Extra status points are given for motorcycle escorts, depending on whether sirens are sounded and the size and inconvenience of ensuing traffic jams. Also, death threats are a status marker.

swing state 1.

A state that cannot settle down and be counted on to vote for the same party election after election.

2.

A state dominated by older voters who prefer the popular music of the 1.940s.

talking heads

 Talking-head syndrome was first described during the French Revolution (1789-1799) during which, instead of voting politicians out of office, it was the custom to chop their heads off using the newly invented guillotine. It was noted that after the knife fell and the head went plop into the basket, it continued to talk for many hours. Hence the expression talking head. In America it is not necessary to chop a politician's head off to induce him or her to talk.

tax-and-spend Democrat

 A variant of the no-tax-and-spend Republican.

think tank

 Large receptacle containing the green algae of tired political ideas.

third party

 Political equivalent of the Messiah, the Redeemer or the Knights of Sitno who sleep deep in the Carpathian Mountains--or at least nearby--waiting to rise up and protect the Slovakian people should harm befall them. Similarly, it is believed that the day will dawn when the Third Party shall come in a manner not yet revealed to slay the corrupt Democrats and the debauched Republicans and bring real democracy to America.

throw under the bus

 To repudiate or traduce a friend, to abandon an ally, to leave a pal in the lurch.

traditional

 Any public activity repeated two or more years up to ten years, after which said activity is deemed to have become historic.

triangulation 1.

Trigonometric formula used by artillery officers to aim their canons.

2.

Verbal formula used by politicians to abandon heretofore loudly proclaimed principals in order that they may embrace those they formerly denounced.

24-hour news cycle

 Modern campaigns have had to adapt themselves to all news, all the time, as presented by Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Voters rarely watch these stations, but prisoners at Guantánamo have no choice. They are subjected to them 24/7. After thirty-six uninterrupted hours of Wolf Blitzer, detainees beg to go back to water-boarding.

values (non-core)

 Any set of beliefs held by your constituents.

vice president

 An anomalous elective office which has been held with distinction by one person only, Thomas R. Marshall (1854-1925), who wrote that, "In the city of Denver, while I was vice-president, a big husky policeman kept following me around until I asked him what he was doing. He said he was guarding my person. I said: 'Your labor is in vain. Nobody was ever crazy enough to shoot at a vice-president. If you will go away and find somebody to shoot at me, I'll go down in history as the first vice-president who ever attracted enough attention even to have a crank shoot at him.' " Nevertheless Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), attained a measure of fame in the age of the spittoon and chewing tobacco when he is supposed to have said, "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar."

vision

 Voters demand of candidates for public office that they have this attribute which may be acquired by: a. going into the woods and sitting naked without food for seven days; b. ingesting peyote; c. consulting a focus group.

wedge issue 1.

A three-dimensional triangular object, which when struck with a sledgehammer can chip off votes from one's opponent's supporters.

2.

A shim employed to level and stabilize rickety political structures.

xenophobe

 An unemployed or soon-to-be-unemployed person.

wonk

 A wonk is to politics as a nerd is to computers.

yes-man

 One on whom an office-holder or candidate relies and prizes for candid judgment and disinterested advice.

Yes-lady

is permissible but yes-woman is preferred.

Yes-person

is not standard English, although acceptable in French, i.e.,

oui person

, or tiny politician.


z words


Politicians avoid words beginning with z, for example:

zipper

 (careers have been wrecked by ill-considered acts of unzippage);

zzzzzs

 (as in copping some zzzzs), or

zonked

 (which a pol must not be when the cameras are on or at an awards ceremony for a colleague); and

zakuski

 (Russian, "little bites") Bites of food such that after each bite the biter experiences an irresistible desire for a shot of vodka. American politicians traveling to Russia to pick up foreign policy creds are cautioned against falling into the zakuski trap with its ensuing consequences. For similar reasons, political types can be compromised by

Zinfandel

, unless the politician in question represents the Napa Valley (see

Betty Ford Clinic

).

Zion

,

Zionism

,

Zionistic

,

Zioniac

or

Zionish

spells trouble for even accomplished pols.

zig-zag

 What a politician does if he or she has had one little

zakuski

too many or stumbled on

Zionism

.

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