[Ads-l] dog whistle # 2

GEOFFREY NUNBERG nunbergg at GMAIL.COM
Sun Dec 31 01:13:55 EST 2017


‘Dog whistle’ isn't restricted to implicitly racist appeals. Some of your citations involve  dog whistles relating to reproductive rights, and a much-cited example is Bush’s mention of the Dred Scott decision in the 2004 presidential debates, which Paul Waldman described as follows in a 2014 American Prospect article called “The Death of Dog-Whistle Politics” (http://prospect.org/article/death-dog-whistle-politics):

One prime example came during a 2004 debate, when in answering a question about what sorts of Supreme Court justices he would appoint, Bush dropped in what sounded to most viewers like a non sequitur about the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery. To Christian conservatives, however, Bush's meaning was clear: without ever mentioning abortion, he was telling them he would appoint justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. To know that, you'd have to know that anti-abortion activists often compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. If you didn't know that, the message was as inaudible as a dog whistle.

Describing dog whistles as “coded messages,” while common, also seems to me misleading. That description certainly applies to Bush’s 2004 remark, but nowadays the phrase is most often used nowadays to describe references that are oblique but perfectly comprehensible to everyone. In 2014, for example, Paul Krugman accused Paul Ryan  of using "a racial dog whistle” when Ryan laid the responsibility for persistent poverty on “a culture, in our inner cities in particular, of… generations of men not even thinking about working.” But it isn’t as if anyone needed a Captain Midnight decoder ring to know that Ryan was alluding to urban blacks, not the preppies hanging around bars on Third Avenue. That makes the psychology of the maneuver all the more interesting — as Steve Pinker has pointed out, what we describe as “plausible deniability” is much more often “not-so-plausible deniability.” (See “The Logic of Indirect Speech," http://tinyurl.com/y844n99e)

(I wouldn’t call ‘dog whistle' either nonstandard or slang — it’s simply a term of art and routinely appears, usually without quotes or explication, in sources like the NY Times.) 

Geoff



> Date:    Sat, 30 Dec 2017 08:28:54 -0500
> From:    "David K. Barnhart" <dbarnhart at HIGHLANDS.COM>
> Subject: dog whistle # 2
> 
> Thanks, gentlemen.  All good points.  [A lexicographer’s is never punched
> out on the day’s clock.] See what I did last night:
> 
> 
> 
> dog whistle, {m}  n.phr.  a signal used to alert activists to action; a code
> word or phrase intended to excite racism.  See dog-whistle politics.
> Nonstandard (used in slang contexts dealing especially with party politics
> throughout the English-speaking world; frequency?)

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