'eliminationism' not in OED

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Jan 3 01:29:23 UTC 2013

Given the OED's passion for sweeping up whatever Internet ephemera swim into its ken, it's awkward when they don't get around to an entry for words that really are important. 'Eliminationism/-ist"  has a history of use in philosophy of mind and metaphysics but it entered the broader discourse in 1997 with the publication of Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners (he's generally credited with coining this use of the term, to describe the political impulse that gives rise to genocide; he wrote a subsequent book using the word in the title). Google Books and Google Scholar turn up thousands of (real) hits for the word, at least 2/3 of them referencing Goldhagen rather than the philosophical sense. The meaning was was widened by Davd Neiwart in his 3009 book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, where it refers simply to the desire to excise some constituency from public life, whether by violence. suppression or political means. It's been u!
 sed lately by some on the right to condemn violent rhetoric in a general way, even when directed at a specific individual--Glenn Reynolds accused a University of Rhode Island professor of "eliminationist rhetoric" for saying that he wanted Wayne LaPierre's head on a stick, an extension that Neiwart finds trivilaizing and reprehensible (as do I).

I generally don't approve of the criticisms of reference books that run "How come they list x but not y?" True, the move goes back to Noah Webster's criticisms of Johnson, at least, but it's often a way to score cheap points. In this case, though, the missing word is pretty important and has been prominent for 15 years -- indeed, the dictionary added a 2011 sub-entry for a chemical use of 'elimination', so some editor had to have had that file on his or her screen. So the omission is a little embarrassing.


Geoffrey Nunberg
School of Information
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley CA 94720
ph. 510-643-3894
nunberg at ischool.berkeley.edu

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

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