some terminology developments

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 30 15:05:55 UTC 2013

Thanks, Fred -- I've updated the post accordingly.

On Sun, Sep 29, 2013 at 8:09 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at> wrote:
> Note that the Times (London), August 20, 1861, page 7, had an article on "The
> Civil War in America," in which the following appears:
> It is unfortunate for the United States that it has by turns affronted nearly every
> Government in Europe, and left to itself only the natural sympathies of the peoples
> for those who appear before them as the friends of liberty.  There is one thing to
> be said about civil wars -- they do not last long.  It is probable that the
> "exceptionalism," if one may use the word, on which the Americans rather pride
> themselves, will not prevail in the case of the struggle between North and South.
> Fred Shapiro
> Editor
> YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Ben Zimmer [bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM]
> Sent: Friday, September 27, 2013 2:53 PM
> Subject: Re: some terminology developments
> 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."
> --bgz

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