Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 19 17:40:40 UTC 2009

Along with Birthers and Truthers we now have Tenthers. Unlike the other
two, Tenther already has a perfectly legitimate dictionary (or seven; or
eight--more on that below). But this one is entirely different. I only
traced the term as far back as August 25, 2009, when three entries
appeared--Alan Colmes on his own blog, the ThinkProgress blog of the
Center for the American Progress, and Ian Millhiser writing for the
American Prospect. It's rather obvious (from authors' own comments) that
Millhiser was first.

In fact, in his article on the novel (and nonsensical) constitutional
interpretation, the first time Millhiser uses the term he puts it in
quotation marks. On the other hand, the very next sentence generates an
obvious consequential coinage--Tentherism. To be more specific, a
"tenther" is someone who argues that specific federal programs and
spending are banned under the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution (and
Millhiser adds, "disfavored by conservatives", although this may change,
one day). It is a sort of a federalist conspiracy theory and it has got
quite a bit of air in conservative circles over the past three weeks,
including a piece by Fox News analyst and ex-judge Napolitano and a
comment by Minnesota governor Pawlenty.

In any case, legal validity is not my point here. Add Tenther and
Tentherism to your dictionary of XXIst century political jargon. Wiki
already has.

Another similar creation--and even more closely correlated with
Birthers--is "Deather". The obvious target for this was Sarah Palin and
her reference to Death Panels in the yet-to-be-determined healthcare
reform. The earliest appearance in a written piece in this context that
I initially found was from 10 August 2009 (buzzflash.com and
DailyKos--the former on Sarah Palin, the latter, an improvised
dictionary entry), but there is an earlier entry in the Urban Dictionary
from 31 July 2009. (A second definition appeared in UD on August 11.)
The UD piece, judging from the nickname of the contributor, was inspired
by Rachel Maddow. Whether she used it in one of her MSNBC broadcasts, I
don't know. But the actual coinage appears to have been by Christopher
Beam in a Slate Article from July 28 (Scaring Grandma). The earliest
Google hit for "Deatherism" that I found was from August 18 (Beam did
not use it).

To add another point, it almost appears as if snowcloning has now
trickled down to suffixes. When we got various -gates and similar
construct, there has been a discussion of "snowclonelets". The formation
of new words designating adherents of insane political positions by -er
and their movement by -erism is not just an ordinary morphological
process. If nothing else, it is value-laden. So, do we now have

There is a caveat. Unlike the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories
or those for the fake lunar landing, the -erisms are not likely to be
perpetual--most or all of the latest conspiracy fads seem to be very
temporal. I suppose, Trutherism may survive into the next generation,
but Birtherism and Deatherism certainly will not (they are directly tied
to the Obama administration). Tentherism is quite different. It
represents a potentially genuine political movement--just saying that
makes me cringe, and not just because the modifiers are misaligned (but
I don't have a better way of expressing it). Like other -erisms, it
displays adherence to a factually nonsensical belief (under other
circumstances we might call it religion), but it's not a conspiracy
theory. So it's an interesting variation on the theme.

Now, for the count. Deather has about 114000 raw ghits; deatherism--697.
There are 33400 raw ghits for "tenther" and 813 for "tentherism". The
numbers changed to 40800 and 337, respectively, when limited to only
last month and with SafeSearch on (I can't really explain why limiting
the temporal range increased the count). Stretching the range to the
past year increased the raw count to 91,400 and 433, respectively. Just
scrolling through the pages of "anytime" hits and checking them
randomly, it appears that virtually all of them are of recent
vintage--that is, past 25 August 2009. But not all. Also note that
assertions of 10th Amendment rights go back mostly to April and the
stimulus bill, but AFAIK no one referred to it as "tentherism". (Note
that some of the hits that claim to have a pre-August original date are
simply aggregators that have a range of hits from April to September
with the cited date being the earliest, but citations for "tenther"
coming much later.)

One of the actual pre-2009 citations is from an essay "Eminent
Contrarian" by Ishmael Reed. Although the hit is of more recent vintage,
the original appeared in the Village Voice in October 2000. But the
reference is quite different (and closer related to the more traditional
definition)--it's a derivative of WEB Du Bois's "Talented Tenth". In
fact, it occurs in the essay three times, and each time in combination
"Talented Tenther".


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

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