Pig-gate: any way you spin it, lipstick on a pig is politics as usual

Dennis Baron debaron at illinois.edu
Thu Sep 11 04:05:46 UTC 2008

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Pig-gate: any way you spin it, lipstick on a pig is politics as usual

When Barack Obama said of rival John McCain's economic plan, "You can  
put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," Republicans loudly  
complained that he was attacking vice presidential nominee Sarah  
Palin, who had connected lipstick, hockey moms, and pit bulls in her  
speech at the Republic Convention.

But lipstick on a pig is an insult used by Democrats and Republicans  
alike, and it's been a political staple at least since 2004. The real  
issue isn't whether Obama was insulting Palin, McCain's economics, or  
both. Instead, the media circus that we might call pig-gate has become  
an object lesson in how interpretation depends more on attempts to  
control what words mean than on what their dictionary definitions say  
they mean.

Democrats were likening McCain's economic proposals to "lipstick on a  
pig" well before he chose Palin as his running mate.. . .John Edwards  
and Dick Cheney likened their opponents' plans to putting lipstick on  
a pig when they were running for vice president. . . .

John McCain himself used the "lipstick on a pig" comparison to  
describe Hillary Clinton's health care plan in 2004 as well . . .

A sexist attack on Sen. Clinton? Maybe it was, especially if you  
consider that John McCain's former press aide Torie Clarke, who also  
served as Donald Rumsfeld's press secretary, wrote a primer  
calledLipstick on a Pig in 2006 which advised politicians how to spin  
their message while pretending not to. The book's subtitle, Winning in  
the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game, suggests that Clarke  
learned that game from mentors like McCain and Rumsfeld.

read the rest of this post on the Web of Language

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


read the Web of Language:

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