more on -er

Leslie Savan lsavan at VERIZON.NET
Mon Nov 23 20:44:26 UTC 2009

----- Original Message -----
From: "Laurence Horn" <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Sent: Sunday, November 22, 2009 8:13 PM
Subject: Re: more on -er

> In my earlier posting on this, I alleged that most of the relevant
> pejorative -er formations allude to ideological (religious and/or
> political) positions--flat-earther, bra-burner, truther, birther,
> tea-bagger, one worlder, young earther (which I can now confirm a
> putative 21K hits for).  This is why I didn't think this particular
> word-formation rule applied to "Jack the Ripper" (since there's no
> Jack-the-Rip movement he subscribed to) and why I was skeptical about
> "Mad Hatter".  I don't see why one would expect "Hell's Angel-er" for
> the same reason, or even a necessarily pejorative sense for "biker".
> "Christer" is interesting, since of course it does correspond to the
> generalization, as do "Quaker", "Shaker", and "Holy Roller, all of
> which at least originated as pejoratives.
> LH
I agree with Laurence and others here: The -er formations in Jack the Ripper
and Mad Hatter have nothing to do with ideological positions or group
beliefs of any kind. They're -ers of another ilk. But in speculating that
today's conspiratorial -ers may "even carry faint echoes of [those] earlier
English -er names for the unhinged," I meant that because we're familiar
with individual crazies with -er nicknames, the leap to using -er to name
groups of crazies is a bit shortened.

In a similar vein, I was tempted to include (but didn't for lack of space)
the even fainter echo of "the Decider," in the W. sense. It has nothing to
do with conspiracy theories or, in and of itself, fringe politics. It's
formulation isn't that of Birther. But, after years of using it
sarcastically, we may have habitualized ourselves to finding a satisfying
irony in zapping someone you disagree with with an -er.

Of course not every nonce -er is perjorative, but especially since the
Truther/Birther er-uption (sorry!), the tendency will be, as Victor noted,
to -er people in order to quickly I.D. their beliefs and to imply that
they're off-the-charts obsessive nutjobs.

The pinnacle of such -ering has got to be Colbert's recent creation, the Guy

The American Dialect Society -

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