[Ads-l] whataboutery (1974), whataboutism (1993)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 9 11:41:35 EDT 2017

My latest column for the Wall Street Journal is about "whataboutism" and
the earlier variant "whataboutery."


As usual, if you hit the paywall, you can try following a social media link:


Here are the relevant early cites, in articles about the Troubles in
Northern Ireland.

* whataboutery

[1974 Sean O'Conaill _Irish Times_ 30 Jan. 11/1 (letter to editor) I would
not suggest such a thing were it not for the Whatabouts. These are the
people who answer every condemnation of the Provisional I.R.A. with an
argument to prove the greater immorality of the "enemy", and therefore the
justice of the Provisionals' cause: "What about Bloody Sunday, internment,
torture, force feeding, army intimidation?".]

1974 "Backbencher" [John Healy] _Irish Times_ 2 Feb. 12/8 You don't look
for universal compassion in the middle of a civil war; you merely line up
with the approved morality of the official community as laid down by the
culture-makers. As a correspondent noted in a recent letter to this paper,
we are very big on Whatabout Morality, matching one historic injustice with
another justified injustice. We have a bellyfull of What~aboutery in these
killing days and the one clear fact to emerge is that people, Orange and
Green, are dying as a result of it.

1974 _Irish Times_ 16 Dec. 8/1 Speaking on the Campaign of Prayer for Peace
in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Cardinal [William] Conway summed up one
aim of the campaign with the slogan "What~aboutery." "In a situation of
tension, when faced with something embarrassing or shameful, people are
inclined to point the finger at some other incident and say, 'Yes, but what
about such and such'," he said.

* whataboutism

1993 Fintan O'Toole _Irish Times_ 23 Nov. 11/7 [Sinn Fein councillor Joe
Austin:] Probably the best example of it would be in the immediate
aftermath of the Enniskillen bomb, where any Republican who had any sense
of right and wrong, felt ashamed and had their heads down as far as their
knees, but people were saying 'Ah but what about Bloody Sunday, what about
that?' This what-aboutism. I think you can end up pandering to that, and
you can become a victim of that.

1993 Tony Parker _May the Lord in His Mercy Be Kind to Belfast_ (1994) 136
And I'd no time at all for 'What aboutism' -- you know, people who said
'Yes, but what about what's been done to us? What about Bloody Sunday in
Derry, what about the shooting of three defenceless people in Gibraltar by
the SAS?'

This last one was previously posted by Garson O'Toole:



The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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