made up words

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 24 23:42:38 UTC 2011

Well, it looks like "refudiate" gets both a prequel and a sequel. Former
Senator George Allen is trying to win back his Virginia seat, following
an embarrassing collapse after a video surfaced of him referring to an
South-Asian-American intern tracker as "macaca".

After only a few hours, the campaign imploded--"macaca" is common
North-African French term for "non-white". Allen tried to deny any
knowledge of "macaca" being a racial slur, then tried to deny any
knowledge that his mother came from a prominent Jewish family in Tunis,
where the term would have been in circulation. Allen continued to insist
that "macaca" was a "made-up word", but his campaign never recovered and
he lost a close election.

Now, Allen is mounting a comeback. Of course, the "macaca" issue
immediately comes up. So what does Allen do? He lies again:
> "On the issue of 'macaca,' which people will bring up, I needlessly
> drew a college student who was following me around all over Virginia
> into the race," Allen said. "And I should not have. He was just doing
> his job, and I should not have made him part of the issue. And I
> regret it. It was not done with malice. And if I had known that that
> made-up word would be connoted as a racial insult, I would not have
> said it."

The slur would, of course, be fairly obscure had it not been for Allen's
mother's North African origin. I checked with a French-Tunisian-Jewish
(now American) friend whose family actually knew the prominent family in
question (Lumbroso). Most Jewish families left Tunisia in the mid-1960s,
as a precursor to the Six-Day War. Others left even earlier, as
post-independence policies of the 1950s took a decidedly antisemitic
turn. Allen was born in 1952. His mother emigrated with a part of her
family prior to that, although a part of the family remained in Tunis
until 1967. There is little doubt that the term would have been /known/
to the Lumbroso family, although it is open to question as to whether
Henrietta Lumbroso ever used it.

In any case, it seemed doubtful at the time that Allen would have been
unaware of the origin of the term. It was widely excepted by
non-Republicans that he was lying about it. I am not sure what might
have changed in 5 years since that would make Allen believe that he can
just recycle the old statements and pretend that nothing happened.

Whatever the case, watch for the macaca debate to make a comeback.


The American Dialect Society -

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