some terminology developments

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 27 18:53:51 UTC 2013

On Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 12:44 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
> The Atlantic has an article from March 2012 on the supposed origin of
> the term "American Exceptionalism".
> Although they correctly point to the collocation circulating in the US
> Communist Party documents in the early 1930s, the attribution to Stalin
> is rather ludicrous. The article has resurfaced due to the ebb and flow
> of conservative politics. Josh Marshall, apparently not realizing that
> the article is 18 months old, takes them to task for ignoring that the
> meaning of the term as used by the Communists was quite different from
> its current incarnation, which, he suggests, took root in post-WWII
> political economy. I suspect he's off by more than a few decades (the
> Reagan-Bush version is built on popular Protestant notions of American
> Exceptionalism--not quite so-named--from the 1800s), but certainly the
> neoconservative philosophy that makes regular use of the term dates back
> to that period.

I wrote up something for Language Log (reprinted on Slate's Lexicon
Valley blog) dismissing the idea that Stalin should be credited with
coining "American exceptionalism."


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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