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As the authors state in their foreword (pp. xii-xiii):

This book represents an attempt to defang the slang and crack the code. In writing this, we tried to think back to when we were new to Washington and wishing, like wandering tourists lost in a foreign city, that we had a handy all-in-one-place phrasebook.

I would say they have largely accomplished this. Dog Whistles, Walk-backs & Washington Handshakes is an up-to-date glossary of American political terms. I think that people interested in language and politics would find this book enjoying for a few reasons. First, the book is well referenced (always a plus). The authors are not trying to discover the first known use of some political code word, but rather to show that politicians from all sides use this type of language and that you are likely to come across it in tomorrow’s newspaper or news broadcast. So their references mostly come from very recent sources, which is refreshing. The foreword and introduction make nuanced points about language and slang, and the authors back up these points with references to reputable sources.

Dog Whistles has appeal for people who follow American politics, since although they are likely to already know some of the terms in here, they will probably find some they don’t know or haven’t thought about. That’s because the book isn’t just made up of eye-catching terms such as Overton window and San Fransisco values. Readers will appreciate the care that the authors have taken to explain each term. For example, here is the entry for the seemingly innocent term bold (p. 40):

Bold: A politician’s most common description of their own or their party’s proposals. It manages to be a punchy, optimistic-sounding break with conventional thinking and deliberately vague all at once.

Image copyright ForeEdge and University Press of New England

Image copyright ForeEdge and University Press of New England


But the book is not just for language and politics heads. In the introduction (p. ix), the authors recognize the problem that people who do not closely follow politics might have when reading about or listening to their representatives:

For most of the population – let’s call them “regular, normal people” – time spent listening to legislation, operatives, and journalists thrash over public policy on cable or a website can often result in something close to a fugue state, induced by the repeated use of words and phrases that have little if any connection to life as it is lived on planet Earth.

Later (p. 129), the authors explain the importance of their glossary by saying that:

Knowing the meanings of such specialized political terms can help cut through spin meant to obscure what’s really going on in a campaign. When politicians use the cliché, “The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day,” they really mean, “I wouldn’t win if the election were held today.”

I am all for educating people about the intricacies of language, especially when that means explaining the ways that politicians use words and phrases to trick people.
I am, however, not sure that all of the terms deserve being placed in this book. I feel like a glossary should include words that are at least nominally used by a group of people. But in their attempt to be current, the authors have included phrases such as hardship porn. This is a phrase coined by Frank Bruni of the New York Times and it only returns two hits on Google News – the July 2015 article in which Bruni coined it and an October 2015 book review in the Missoula Independent. However influential Frank Bruni is, this term has not caught on yet.

This is really nitpicking though (something us academics excel at, thankyouverymuch). I really found this book enjoyable. If you like politics, language, or both, you will probably enjoy it too. You can check out the interactive website here: http://dogwhistlebook.com/ and even suggest you own term.

 

 

References

McCutcheon, Chuck and David Mark. 2014. Dog Whistles, Walk-backs & Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech. ForeEdge: New Hampshire.

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Michele, we need to talk. I’ve been hearing these crazy things about you. I mean really crazy things. At first, I said to myself everything’s cool because these crazy things match your crazy eyes. It’s what makes them sparkle.

But there’s something bigger at stake here.

The fact is, Michele, you’ve been ignoring me. How many times does a normal Joe like me need to tell a Member of Congress to tweet their Congress member? I thought that’s what Congress members Members of Congress were good for. I also thought we were off to a good start. I followed you, you followed me, things were looking up. But where have we followed each other to?

It’s the 11th hour now and you still haven’t thrown the Hail Mary. I’m afraid I’ve lost faith in you. I’m going to have to Twump™ you. It sounds cute, but in this day and age, being Twitter dumped is like being really dumped. Like for real for real.

I wish you the best of luck in your craziness and your gay conversions. Here’s hoping your program will work on your husband. I know there are lots of gay men out there just waiting to embrace Marcus Bachmann.

[Update – Jan. 4, 2011] See what happens when you don’t tweet your Congress member, Michele?

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I think I’m going to throw away my I Love Troy, MI carrying bag now that women can be mayor there.

In her defense, she is obviously a pilgrim.

In other news, the rest of Michigan is still not a nice place to be gay.

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Geoffrey Pullum and I have not always agreed on everything. I like to comment, and he hates comments. But in a recent language log post, Mr. Pullum mentioned talking to his son about “the ghastly crew of obnoxious multi-millionaires who dominate the newspapers, and how they keep threatening to achieve success even in the political arena.” And that’s when his son turned him on to the fact that we are living in “the age of the assholocracy.”

At first, I thought I agreed with Pullum. It really does seem like there are a ton of assholes in power these days. And it seems there are even more assholes vying to get into power. It’s easy to believe that the age of the assholocracy is upon us.

But then I realized that we’ve always been living in an assholocracy. Assholes in power has long been the rule, not the exception. Just open a history book. Those things are chock full of assholes. It’s a wonder there’s room for anyone else. Or, even better, go ask someone who’s not a white middle-class male. They’ll tell you all about the assholes in power.

Mr. Pullum uses Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi, and Vladimir Putin as examples of the assholocracy we’re living in. But these people are downright pussies (to continue the anatomical analogies) compared to previous media moguls and Italian or Russian leaders. Is it possible we’re at the end of the assholocracy and the start of the pussypublic? You wish. (Again, just following the anatomy metaphor.)

Instead, I think these assholes are starting to be assholes to their own kind – the other white middle-class males – at an equal rate that they historically were assholes to other kinds of people. The assholocracy has gone into self-destruct mode, or what political scholars refer to as a dicktatorship.

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I see you have recently changed the English name of you political party to The Finns. I regret to inform you that I already have a party called The Finns. Rather than go down a messy legal road (we all have names to protect, am I right?), I’m prepared to make a deal with you. I’ll give you two options: Either you can change the name of your party or we can join forces. Once you take a look at my party’s ideals, I think you’ll choose the latter option. It may seem like our parties are totally different at first, but in fact we are quite similar.

But first, the differences. Instead of hating Muslims (like your party does), my party hates Evangelical Christians. Instead of hating blacks, my party hates whites. Instead of hating homosexuals, my party hates heterosexuals. And instead of hating non-Finnish people, my party hates only Finnish people.

I know we sound like polar opposites, but hear me out. What we have in common may be enough to bring us together. For instance, we both love xenophobia. We both love sexual orientation bashing. And we both love us some racism. The underlying connections are there. We just need to come to some kind of agreement on our union.

Allow me to suggest we compromise in a few areas. For example, you give up your Muslim-hating and I’ll let you keep that cross on your flag. Furthermore, I propose that I give up my hate of straight people, while you can continue saying that gay sex doesn’t turn you on. And finally, on the race issue, let’s agree to meet in the middle and proclaim brown-skinned people as the master race (you are familiar vit zat term, yes?)

If you find this situation agreeable to you, please let me know. My lawyers, the ravenous dogs that they are, can’t wait for their day in court. They wanted to sue you right away. But I’m a rational man. I believe that if two men can talk, bigot-to-bigot, then they’re bound to reach an amicable agreement. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Until then, hold your heads up high. The white man shall overcome!

Regards,

Joe McVeigh

[UPDATE]: Here’s the response I got from Jussi Halla-aho, who has lots of time on his hands to respond to email as he’s serving a suspension from his party for losing the interwebs. Hey, Jussi, it’s OK. Everyone has the stupid from time to time. I’ve never advocated using tanks against protesters, but that’s just me.

Dear Joseph,

It is sad there is so much hatred in you. Our party is clearly not the best option for a person who hates so much.

Yours,

Jussi Halla-aho

Nice try! You’re getting better at this “acceptable forms of social interaction” thing. But I think what you meant to say was that “it is sad there is so much hatred in you not directed at Muslims, Greeks, other people to the north, south, east, and west of the Finnish border, etc.” Or how about, “Don’t hate the player, hate the [insert ethnic minority here]”. Now that’s a campaign slogan!

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Just a quick update on the people following @congressmembers, the Twitter account I started so politicians would have a safe place to send pictures of their naughty bits and avoid their own personal Weinergate.. Yes, my childish mind really started a Twitter account for that (see the post on it here). But more importantly, get a load of these dopes:

1. Michele Bachmann – It looks like Minnesota’s least favorite politician is in it for the long run – in support of a safe haven for politicians to tweet pictures of their dongs and dongettes, that is. While it is probable that Ms. Bachmann does not handle her Twitter account, it appears that someone working for her either sucks at their job or has a twisted sense of humor. I’m hoping for the latter.

Still one of my favorite emails.

2. Ted Cruz – Here’s someone from Texas who’s trying to get in the Senate. Yo Ted, are you as awful at governing as you are at twittering? Or does Michele Bachmann’s best/worst employee also monitor your Twitter account?

3. LawyersforPerry – We want the Twitter! You can’t handle the Twitter!

4. ElephantAttire* – Did you ever wish your clothes could love Jesus and America and America Jesus as much as you do? Now they can! I actually think this is a great idea and wish I had thought of it. It’s like hemp clothing for everyone between Pittsburgh and Denver. You know, Real ‘Mercans™.

5. CJTaganos – Hands down the sanest one of my followers. CJTaganos uses Twitter for its true intention – professing one’s love for Vanessa Hudgens.

It’s possible that the conservatives on this list are following me because they get the joke, but does anyone really believe that?

*@AmericanJesusClothesRUs (aka ElephantAttire) is no longer following me. Even though our Twitlationship™ was short, I’ll never forget the wonderful moments we shared. They tried to hawk some GodLovesAmerica clothes on me, I told them they’re dipshits. Alas, it was not meant to be.

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Michele Bachmann has become the first politician to jump on the @congressmembers bus. I applaud this move. It shows that she’s not afraid to take chances, be brave, and help the country move beyond Weinergate.

I am actively awaiting Michele to tweet me her twat, but until the sexual spirit moves her, why don’t you enjoy this lovely picture that appeared in my inbox today. I know I did.

I was going to update the previous post with this news, but I thought it deserved a post all on its own. Here’s hoping @SarahPalinUSA gets on board with this movement.

*Intended to be a factual statement… cause it totally is.

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