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September 27, 2003


Pinkos and the English language
I try to be careful and precise with my written words, especially when I'm saying something that I know will be controversial about politics. I am highly cognizant of George Orwell's famous essay about "Politics and the English Language." I want to say what I'm really thinking, and to do so with flavor and some personal style- but I also want to be appropriate in my use of the language.

People sometimes object to any personal descriptions or criticisms as "ad hominem" or "to the person" attacks. Criticisms of someone's character do not answer how you would propose to pay for Social Security benefits, say.

To some extent, personal criticisms in politics are unavoidable, however. Math or physics operate on mechanical criteria. Either the formula is correct, or not- regardless of what you may think about the professor espousing it. Politics, however, to a significant extent is about people and personalities. You can't really talk about public affairs without sometimes talking about the people involved.

This leads me to considering the words I choose to describe political opponents, which is somewhat tricky. There are numerous considerations, depending on the circumstances. I don't want to just routinely villify anyone with whom I have any disagreement, and opposition comes from all sides and flavors.

I don't particularly mind if I speak harshly of Bill Clinton, for example. He already has made himself fairly demonic in a thousand ways, so there's not much danger of unfairly demonizing him with anything I might write about him. I wouldn't feel bad about describing him as an evil demagogue. The nasty bastard deserves worse language than that.

On the other hand, Barney Frank rates with me as a pretty decent fellow. Now, he holds a lot of socialistic and left-wing views with which I heartily disagree. Oh yes, sometimes watching him on the news I want to slap him- though I'm not sure that would discourage him. Anyway, I generally would consider him a smart and honest, if misguided, figure. I might call him a damned fool, but anything suggesting wickedness or dishonesty would not be right.

Sometimes you need generalized words, shorthand for groups of people or ways of thinking. The negative way to describe this would be to accuse one of "stereotyping." I try to be mindful of this, but the need for generalized terms is sometimes unavoidable. Analysis consists of picking out patterns and abstract associations, recognizing that this thing and that thing go together. Grouping is to some extent totally appropriate and unavoidable, particular when you're talking about self-selected groups, such as PETA or the NRA.

The most general group of political opposition I encounter might be broadly described as "people whose dumb politics piss me off." This would include, approximately, everyone. There are foolish damned conservatives, environmentalists, drug warriors, socialists and do gooders of all stripes. Even some libertarians cheese me off. Sometimes I piss MYSELF off.

pinko FAGs Danny Glover and Sean PennSlightly more specifically, however, I most commonly find myself tangling with left wing types. I find myself thus needing a good generic descriptive word or phrase for a shorthand reference to annoying liberal types. I want something that will convey a lightly dismissive tone for people I think are not serious, reactionary knee jerk liberals who routinely jump on largely thoughtless, shallow and predictable ideological responses.

How should I refer to such people? Some would argue that one should maintain careful neutrality of language, maybe something like refering to them simply as liberals or left-wingers or esteemed colleagues or some such.

Blah! That's colorless, tasteless and lacking in style. Even worse, it doesn't communicate anything like what I'm really thinking.

Some of these folks get pretty mean spirited and ridiculous. I'm talking here about the kind of people who would describe anyone an inch to the right of Hillary Clinton as a "fascist hatemonger" for example. Some people can't hear the words President Bush without going into a seething rant about Dubya being a lying Nazi. I'm not that worried about offending their sensibilities.

On the other hand, I don't want to share that kind of hateful tone. I like to think I'm good-humored, and though I may speak sharply, I try to avoid being malicious or bitter in tone, even if some folks really deserve it. I don't want to pull my punches, but I don't want to be a hater either.

Also, most of the liberal schmucks aren't that bad. They may be misguided and foolish, but not necessarily wicked and hateful. Janeane Garofalo, for example, can get pretty silly, but she's not really a hater.

But what word can I use to broadly refer to all these people? I sometimes have used the word commie, but I'm not real satisfied with it. I would take that as a bit funny, but all the fellow travelers will choose not to see the humor in it. Also, in fairness, it is short for the word communist, so it might reasonably be seen to invoke at least some hint of the evil, murderous Joe Stalin et al. That's a bit much to lay even on such a schmuck as Sean Penn. I think he's an infantile idiot, not a mass murdering monster.

At this point, I really like the term pinko. For starters, it's clearly not as strong as communist or any derivative. It's pink, not red.

Also, it seems like it would be hard for someone to miss the humor in the term. The word is so archaic as to be amusing. It's from what, the 60s? It's a bit like saying groovy, which I'm also known to do. It has an inherent bit of camp value that even John Waters (a pinko himself, no doubt) might appreciate.

Indeed, the most famous usage of the word alive in popular culture comes from the highly humorous Charlie Daniels "Ballad of Uneasy Rider" wherein he's going off about "them long-haired hippie-type pinko fags." Even when this song was recorded thirty years ago, the term was an archaic cliche. I, for one, can't hear that word without thinking of this usage of it.

All in all, then, pinko seems to strike about the right tone. It communicates the idea of silly leftism, with a decent dash of humor that would seem to preclude someone thinking that I'm taking myself too 100% deadly serious.

Or do some of you pinko fags got something to say about it?

posted by Al at 9/27/2003 05:38:00 AM

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