5 Political Insults With WTF Origins You Never Saw Coming
It's a sad fact that the level of discourse in American politics is currently somewhere between a middle school group chat and a bus station toilet stall. Some political insults have fairly straightforward origins. ("Hmm, that guy does look like his dad killed JFK!") But others have complex backstories most people hurling them around would never suspect. For instance ...
"Incel" Was Coined By A Woman, And Wasn't Meant As A Bad Thing
"Incel" is short for "involuntarily celibate," and is most often used by men who can't get the sex which they believe they're entitled to simply for having a dingus. They feel like women are evil for refusing to sleep with them and daring to have their own feelings and opinions. Inceldom is characterized by extreme misogyny, misanthropy, self-loathing, racism, and thinking Joker is a documentary.
And that's incredible, because the label comes from a Canadian woman who was trying to help herself and the lonely people of the internet through kindness, education, and community.
Her name is Alana, and in 1997, she started a website called the Involuntary Celibacy Project, initially shortened to "invcel." (That "v" awkwardly stuck in the middle eventually fell off.) It was meant to be a friendly place where late bloomers like herself could talk and joke about their struggles, and perhaps even make connections. The idea of a friendly internet forum may seem foreign to us in 2019, but in 1997, it wasn't that rare. Believe it or not, the group inspired a total of zero mass shootings during this time.
But Alana notes that even in those early days, when the community was mostly friendly and supportive, there were angry men who blamed women for all their problems. When she left in 2000, perhaps feeling like this whole internet thing was on its last legs, she was confident that the group would grow in a positive direction. It didn't go that way. At some point the misogynists took over, and now, instead of good people fighting against the stereotype of the pathetic virgin, we have a bunch of men who call Elliot Rodger "St. Elliot." Oh well, maybe the next civilization will do better.
"Snowflake" Was An Insult Against Anti-Abolitionists During The Civil War
People who use "snowflake" as an insult often believe society is getting too damned sensitive, that comedians should be able to joke about anything without consequence, and that football players should be sent to Guantanamo if they so much as twitch during the National Anthem. When the word broke through to the mainstream in the mid-2010s, Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk took credit for conceiving the phrase, although it was actually birthed through Brad Pitt's lips (you're welcome for the mental image):
The alt-right does love Fight Club almost as much as they love The Matrix (they're not great at the whole "subtext" thing), but "snowflake" as a political insult predates the movie and the book by over a century. Lexicographer and dictionary editor Emily Brewster discovered that in 1860s Missouri, as the Civil War got warmed up, "a snowflake was a person who was opposed to the abolition of slavery." "Person opposed to the abolition of slavery" was too long, and "racist" was too short (plus they didn't mind being called that back then), so abolitionists came up with "snowflake" as a reference to the other side's predilection for lighter skin. (As a side note, "snowflake" can also mean "cocaine," because it's hard to think of good names for things when your brain is impaired.)
"Nothingburger" Originated With Hollywood Gossip Columnists
"Nothingburger" sounds like a term exclusively used in retirement communities in Boca Raton, but browsing places like r/The_Donald showcases how it's alive and well with youthful conservatives. It's how right-wingers describe scandals they think are grilled up by liberals, like when the president does normal president things like paying off mistresses or using his position to enrich his own hotels. It's thrown around so much that even the dictionary took notice.
But its origin comes from an unlikely place for a conservative buzzword: Hollywood gossip columnists discussing which starlets would succeed or fail. It was 1950s gossip-monger Louella Parsons who popularized the phrase as a way to say "someone who won't amount to anything." For instance, she wrote that if it weren't for studio head Sam Goldwyn, actor Farley Granger's career would've been a nothingburger (yes, THE Farley Granger).
Helen Gurley Brown, the founder of Cosmopolitan, kept the phrase alive throughout the 1960s by using it to refer to fashion items that were duds. But when did nothingburger-ing turn political? The person responsible for that is the mother of current Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, who actually lost her job because of it. In 1980, President Reagan appointed her to head the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and the Atmosphere, but she was caught telling people that the panel was a nothingburger and a joke. That's just a regular Tuesday these days, but this was back when someone could actually lose their cabinet position for openly disparaging what their job would entail, so she quit.
"Globalist" Was First Used Against Hitler, Then FDR, Then ... Artists?
"Globalist" and "globalism" are frequent insults used against the enemies of both the president and Alex Jones, which is a sentence that wouldn't be possible in a sane world. Donald Trump seems to use the term as the opposite of "patriot" -- someone concerned with the well-being of the whole world (gross) instead of only the U.S. (brave and heroic).
While "globalist" is vague enough that mainstream conservatives feel comfortable flinging it at whoever they want, the word has heavy antisemitic connotations. Which is ironic, because it was originally used against the fuhrer. In 1943, an anti-Nazi academic defined Hitler's world-conquering ambitions as "globalism." It didn't catch on; most people preferred the descriptor "being a fucking maniac."
Around that same time, American isolationists began using words like "globaloney" and "globalitis" to criticize President Roosevelt for wanting to fight Hitler. Soon they settled on "globalism," simply because it was the least stupid-sounding one in the bunch.
Meanwhile, The New York Times published an article titled "Globalism Pops Into View" ... which was about art, not politics. They were making fun of a group of modern artists (some of them Jewish) who issued a manifesto calling for people to embrace global values. So that one guy's efforts to label Hitler a "globalist" didn't work, but hey, at least it was still being used against artists with funny mustaches.
"Bleeding-Heart Liberal" Goes Back To A Scumbag Newspaper Columnist
Is there any right-wing insult more iconic than "bleeding heart"? It's used to mean liberals are overly sensitive and want to help people to the point of impracticality, supporting silly causes like building comfier seats for the homeless or, uh, not lynching black people. The phrase "bleeding heart" was popular in religious communities during the 19th century, and despite sounding pretty gross, it originally had positive connotations. Back then, saying someone had a "bleeding heart" meant they were compassionate and empathetic.
Then came along newspaper columnist Westbrook Pegler, who sounds like a rich bully in an '80s movie. Pegler had a reputation as a fierce opponent of FDR, and had a long list of groups he hated: communists, Jews, the labor movement, and of course, those who wanted to pass anti-lynching legislation. It's not that he was racist, no. He simply thought lynching wasn't a problem anymore, and liberals were playing it up for political reasons. After all, there were only 14 measly lynchings per year, a totally acceptable number. And so he wrote:
After Pegler changed the meaning of "bleeding heart," another beloved Republican cemented its use. We mean good ol' Joe McCarthy, of course. McCarthy used it to disparage what he saw as a far-left media apparatus, describing journalist Edward Murrow as one of the "extreme Left Wing bleeding-heart elements of television and radio." In the '70s, Ronald Reagan described his younger self as "quite the bleeding heart liberal," before assuring his fellow conservatives that he got better. After that, conservatives kept using the phrase, and they still haven't stopped. And it's all because some dipshit thought lynching wasn't a big deal.
For more, check out Why We'll Definitely Insult Aliens When We Meet Them - We're Not Alone: Episode 3:
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