Thursday, October 25, 2012

Does Sarah Palin speak jive? and other bullshit concerns

Posted By on 10.25.12 at 06:00 PM

Postdebate cleanup
  • Giuseppe Bognanni
  • Postdebate cleanup
Politico's Mike Allen reported this morning that Barack Obama, in a forthcoming interview with Rolling Stone, indirectly calls Mitt Romney a "bullshitter." Rolling Stone's editor, Eric Bates, told Obama that he'd asked his six-year-old if she had anything she wanted to pass along to the president. "You can do it," the kid responded. According to the article Obama, hearing this, "grinned": "'You know, kids have good instincts,' Obama offered. 'They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.'" Add it to the binder, already bursting, of election-cycle words that begin with the letter B: bayonets, Big Bird. Bain Capital. (The president's comment is also, the Guardian points out, sort of a descendent of Joe Biden's "big fucking deal," so those of you looking for some symbolic continuity with this trend: there you have it.)

A bit too early to analyze all the blowback, but so far we've heard the remark called "childish, stompy foot and low-class behavior" by Twitchy.com, the Internet concern of Michelle Malkin, who last week called a political noncombatant a "ladyparts tool" for asking a question at a debate (a characterization with which we took issue). (To Malkin's credit, I guess, she took some issue with Ann Coulter calling Barack Obama a "retard," which, there you have it.) Then Twitchy went on to collect some various Twitter users' responses to the Obama line, most of the takes-one-to-know-one variety, like this from columnist (?) Erik Rush: "Would a 'pot calling the kettle black' remark be racist?"

Ha ha, no, but that's funny because the president is black. So is the pot. So is the kettle. Black people, throughout history, have tended to be on the receiving end of a lot of nasty language (etc etc), so Rush's concern, though totally insincere, is appreciated. On the other hand, there's former Sarah Palin's Alaska star Sarah Palin's recent criticism of Obama's "shuck and jive shtick" with regard to Libya. This is more troublesome language, as Slate's Katy Waldman, citing the Post's Erik Wemple, explains:

Erik Wemple at the Washington Post helpfully directs us to the etymological origins of the verb shuck: Since 1819, it has meant to husk corn, and more broadly to engage in "the capers associated with husking frolics," such as "fooling" and "deceiving." And who were the ones originally carrying out antics while shucking corn? Those would be black slaves.

And:

Juba to Jive, a dictionary of African-American slang cited by CNN commentator Roland Martin in his own 2008 excavation of the trope, traces shuck and jive back at least to the 1870s. And starting around 1930, jive began doing its own racially-charged double duty—as a verb meaning "to deceive playfully" and a noun describing "New York City African American slang." By the 1920s, the phrase was widely used to denote cagey comportment.

"Palin surely was unaware of all this history," Waldman says, kindly—surely not the first time somebody's forgiven Sarah Palin's ignorance on account of she's ignorant. Palin pretty much threw the book at—uh, the Facebook—in her defense, noting that she'd have said the same thing about Jimmy Carter, and that her daughter is part Yup'ik Eskimo, so . . . Palin also correctly points out that Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, used the phrase himself with reference to Barack Obama, and just a few years ago. Cuomo tried to make up for it, though, by calling Obama a "beautiful symbol."

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