-er(s) in the Times

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Nov 22 14:51:31 UTC 2009

At 11:37 PM -0500 11/21/09, victor steinbok wrote:
>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.

Good point, although I'm still not quite convinced on "Mad Hatter".
For one thing, when Carroll dubbed the fellow there was no real
pattern for his name to (more or less) fit.  The earlier derogatory
uses, and most of the current ones, involve adherence to a religious
or political philosophy. Or did "Mad Hatter" do so in some way I've
forgotten or never knew?  I thought (probably courtesy of Gardner's
Annotated Alice) that it was the chemical treatments used in hatting
that was supposed to madden the hatters.

>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.

Inter alia that as far as anyone can tell it denotes the empty set.


>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
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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