-er(s) in the Times

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 22 04:37:48 UTC 2009

As you might have surmised, I did not volunteer the quote, but it was
picked up from the ADS-L archives. (not that I would ever say "no"...)

FWIW, I agree on your assessment of Jack the Ripper, but not Mad
Hatter, unless "to hat" is the verbal antecedent of the Hatter. In
fact, one interesting aspect that ties together most of the
politically sarcastic -er's is the fact that they are formed from
nouns rather than verbs, which makes "flat-earther" acceptable both
morphologically and semantically, while Jack the Ripper is
questionable on both counts. The only one that does not follow this
pattern is "bra-burner", but, of course, the list is not exhaustive.
And bra-burner might be interesting for a different set of reasons.


On Sat, Nov 21, 2009 at 10:15 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> No, not the usual productive suffix, but a specific derogatory
> spinoff as in "truther", "birther", "tea-bagger" and earlier
> "flat-earther" (and I guess contemporary "young earther", if I didn't
> just make that up, with its neo-Goethian overtones).  The piece is at
> http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/magazine/22FOB-onlanguage-t.html
> Author Leslie Savan cites our Victor Steinbok's observations here,
> and has some nice observations or her own, although I'm not sure why
> "Jack the Ripper" and "the Mad Hatter" are valid instances of the
> "derogatory force of -er" anymore than "dancer", "singer", "speaker",
> or "teacher" are counterexamples.  I think these are all simple
> agentives; "Quaker" and similar religious labels (e.g. "Shaker",
> "Holy Roller") are better candidates, especially since they share the
> relevant features of "birther" and "deather" of originating as a
> put-down and then (in some cases) adopting as a case of reclamation.
> One formation that I think got missed here as another precedent or at
> least exemplar, especially among Savan's inventory of -er terms "used
> to deride political opponents", is "women's libber".  I remember
> being struck at the time (early 70's?) that nobody would have
> referred to Black Liberation Army members as "black libbers", or
> members of other (non-feminist) activist groups as "libbers".  Part
> of it was the truncation, of course, but part was also the -er suffix
> (cf. "bra-burner", which Savan does cite).
> LH

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