Sunday, August 8, 2010

Time wounds all heels

Languageologist Erin McKean has a new column where she provides a history of insults and epithets taken from politicians' names. For example "gerrymandering" from Elbridge Gerry and the unjustly maligned salamander.

Into this context she puts "Breitbarting, or intentionally taking a statement out of context for political ends", inspired by Andrew BreitbartDon't worry, the article is more interesting than if it were all about that. But that's what we're focusing on here. It must be said that the shoe fits. And "breitbarting" sounds Teutonic. German is one of the world's more percussive languages, always gets the point across. And yet, and yet...

Face it. This is Andy Breitbart. He's a dimwit. Do you really think he even rates lasting infamy.

The truth is that most eponyms--positive or negative--don't last. You can find scores of them in any book of obsolete words. "Borking" is already faded to almost nothing. Conservative pundits occasionally use it, once they have the bandages unwrapped. Outside of them, it's widely assumed to be sexual slang. "Yeah, we got high, took a shower, and borked some more."


susan said...

Great take on the social mutability of our mother tongue. Chaucer did much the same 700 years ago but his work remains comprehensible with only a little effort.

Ben said...

I think whenever I've read Chaucer it's always been with most of the Middle English words translated into Modern English. But yes, his flexibility has served him well over the centuries.