Posts tagged ‘Pejorative’

March 31, 2016

Dutch Uncle

honesty by Allison Ross

Dutch uncle refers to a person who issues frank, harsh, or severe comments and criticism to educate, encourage, or admonish (the reverse of what is normally thought of as avuncular or uncle-like, i.e. indulgent and permissive). During the Anglo-Dutch Wars in the 17th century, the English language gained an array of similar insults, such as: ‘Dutch courage’ (alcohol-induced bravery), ‘Double Dutch’ (incomprehensible, nonsense), ‘Dutch cap’ (contraceptive diaphragm), ‘Dutch wife’ (sex doll), ‘Dutch widow’ (prostitute), ‘Dutch comfort’ (saying that ‘Things could be worse!’), ‘Dutch metal’ or ‘Dutch gold’ (cheap alloy resembling gold), ‘Dutch treat’ (social date where the invitee pays for himself/herself), ‘Dutch concert’ (noise and uproar, as from a drunken crowd), and ‘Dutch-bottomed’ (empty).

Another proposed explanation is that the term, often expressed as ‘talk to one like a Dutch uncle,’ originated in the early 19th century as an allusion to the sternness and sobriety attributed to the Dutch. Dutch behavior is defined in the book ‘Culture Shock! Netherlands: A Survival Guide To Customs and Etiquette’ as ‘practical, direct, outspoken, stubborn, well-organized, blunt and thinking they are always right.’ Another book that advocates this theory is ‘The UnDutchables,’ which assigns comparable characteristics: ‘not lacking in self-esteem … caught up in a cycle of endless envy … always speak their mind … frank, obstinate, blunt,’ basically summed up by the phrase ‘the natives thrive on shaking their fingers at and scolding each other.’

March 18, 2016

Dog-whistle Politics

gop by Rick Sealock

Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is often used as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the messages are frequently coded because they are distasteful to the general populace. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans.

The term can be distinguished from ‘code words’ used in some specialist professions, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm. The messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible.

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May 9, 2015

Holy Roller

Holy Rollers

Holy Roller is a derogatory term for some Christian churchgoers of the Methodist, Holiness, and Pentecostal traditions. The term is sometimes used derisively by those outside these denominations, as if to describe people literally rolling on the floor in an uncontrolled manner. However, those within these Wesleyan traditions have reclaimed it as a badge of honor; for example William Branham wrote: ‘And what the world calls today holy-roller, that’s the way I worship Jesus Christ.’ Gospel singer Andrae Crouch stated, ‘They call us holy rollers, and what they say is true. But if they knew what we were rollin’ about, they’d be rollin’ too.’

Merriam-Webster traces the word to 1841. The Oxford English Dictionary cites an 1893 memoir by American humorist Charles Godfrey Leland, in which he says ‘When the Holy Spirit seized them … the Holy Rollers … rolled over and over on the floor.’ Similar disparaging terms directed at outspoken Christians but later embraced by them include ‘Jesus freaks’ or, from former centuries, Methodists, Quakers, and Shakers.

May 4, 2015


religion and science

Scientism [sahy-uhn-tiz-uhm] is belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints. Philosopher Tom Sorell describes it as: ‘putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.’ It has been defined as ‘the view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society.’

The term scientism frequently implies a critique of the more extreme expressions of logical positivism (verificationism) and has been used by social scientists such as Friedrich Hayek, philosophers of science such as Karl Popper, and philosophers such as Hilary Putnam and Tzvetan Todorov to describe the dogmatic endorsement of scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to only that which is measurable.

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March 25, 2015

Basic Bitch

ugg life

Basic bitch (or simply ‘basic’) is a slang term in American popular culture used to pejoratively describe people who like popular, mainstream products or music. Interpretations of the term vary and its use has been criticized for being an overly vague and a misogynistic insult. Their male counterparts are usually termed ‘basic bros.’

The term was created by comedian Lil’ Duval in 2010. Over the next two years, it appeared in several American rap songs. In the songs ‘Hard in the Paint’ by Tyga and ‘I’m a Human Being’ by Lil Wayne, the singers insist that they are not basic bitches, while in the song ‘Basic Bitch’ by The Game, the singer warns others to avoid basic bitches because they are ‘fake.’ In 2011, rapper Kreayshawn debuted her song ‘Gucci Gucci,’ which included the chorus: ‘Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi, Fendi Prada … basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother.’

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November 6, 2014



In American suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative for a type of large, new luxury house which is judged to be oversized for the parcel or incongruous and out-of-place for its neighborhood. Alternatively, a McMansion can be a large, new house in a subdivision of similarly large houses, which all seem mass-produced and lacking in distinguishing characteristics, as well as appearing at odds with the traditional local architecture.

The neologism seems to have been coined sometime in the early 1980s. It first appeared in print the ‘Los Angeles Times’ in 1990. Related terms include ‘Persian palace,’ ‘garage Mahal,’ ‘starter castle,’ and ‘Hummer house.’ Marketing parlance often uses the term ‘tract mansion’ or ‘executive home.’ An example of a McWord, ‘McMansion’ associates the generic quality of these luxury homes with that of mass-produced fast food by evoking the McDonald’s restaurant chain.

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October 22, 2014


kony 2012

ice bucket challenge

Slacktivism (‘slacker activism’) is a sometimes pejorative term that describes ‘feel-good’ measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from having contributed. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research.

Proponents argue that slacktivism plays a significant role in repressive and authoritarian regimes. Journalist Courtney C. Radsch argues that low level engagement was an important form of activism for Arab youth during the Arab Spring because it was an outlet for free speech and sparked mainstream media coverage. She contends that when a hashtag becomes ‘a trending topic [it] helps generate media attention, even as it helps organize information. The power of social media to help shape the international news agenda is one of the ways in which they subvert state authority and power.’

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October 21, 2014


ribbon magnet

jedi mind trick

Handwaving is a pejorative label applied to the action of displaying the appearance of doing something, when actually doing little, or nothing. It is often used in working situations where results are expected, but no work is actually accomplished. Handwaving can be an idiomatic term, and it can also be a literal descriptive term for the use of excessive body language gestures that may be perceived as lacking productivity in communication or other effort. If the opponent in a debate uses the term, it is meant as a shorthand way to accuse the proponent of having committed an informal fallacy. In this sense, it is also as if a participant is waving their hands as to discourage an insect that is flying around their head, so are they waving away questions. The superlative expressions for the term, such as ‘vigorous handwaving’ or ‘furious handwaving,’ are used to imply that the handwaver lacks confidence in the information being conveyed, and cannot actually convey the essence or core of his argument.

Handwaving arguments often include order-of-magnitude estimates and dimensional analysis. Competent well-intentioned researchers and professors rely on handwaving when, given a limited time, a large result must be shown and minor technical details cannot be given much attention. ‘Back-of-the-envelope’ calculations are approximate ways to get an answer by over-simplification and are compatible with handwaving. By extension, handwaving is used in speculative fiction criticism to refer to a plot device (e.g., a scientific discovery, a political development, or rules governing the behavior of a fictional creature) that is left unexplained or sloppily explained because it is convenient to the story, with the implication that the writer is aware of the logical weakness but hopes the reader will not notice or will suspend disbelief. The fictional material ‘handwavium’ is sometimes referred to in situations where the solution requires access to a substance that is physically impossible to create as it defies physics but is convenient to solving a problem in the story.

September 29, 2013

Bridge and Tunnel

sarah jones

Bridge and tunnel (B&T) is a pejorative term for people who travel to Manhattan Island from surrounding communities, a commute that requires passing over a bridge and/or through a tunnel. Though the term originates from the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which services the five boroughs that comprise New York City, it has come to encompass all people who originate commute from outside of Manhattan, including the four other boroughs, Connecticut, Long Island, New Jersey, and northern counties, such as Orange, Rockland, and Westchester.

As the Oxford Dictionaries explains: a bridge-and-tunnel person is one who lives in the suburbs and is perceived as unsophisticated.

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August 25, 2013


A shyster [shahy-ster] is a slang word for someone who acts in a disreputable, unethical, or unscrupulous way, especially in the practice of law, politics or business. The etymology of the word is not generally agreed upon. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it is based on the German ‘Scheißer’ (literally ‘defecator’ but also used to refer to deceivers), but the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as ‘of obscure origin,’ possibly deriving from a historical sense of ‘shy’ meaning disreputable. Various false etymologies have suggested an anti-Semitic origin, but there is no proof for that. One source claims that the term originated in Philadelphia in 1843 from a disreputable attorney named ‘Schuster.’

Notable ‘shysters’ of fiction include Sylvester Shyster (a Walt Disney cartoon character introduced in 1930), a disbarred attorney who schemes to deprive Minnie Mouse of her inheritance; and Dave Kleinfeld, a mob lawyer in ‘Carlito’s Way’ (1993) who was parodied in ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’ as Ken Rosenberg.

August 15, 2013


Works Progress Administration

Quackery [kwak-uh-ree] is the promotion of unproven or fraudulent medical practices. Random House Dictionary describes a ‘quack’ as a ‘fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill’ or ‘a person who pretends, professionally or publicly, to have skill, knowledge, or qualifications he or she does not possess; a charlatan.’ The word ‘quack’ derives from the archaic word ‘quacksalver,’ of Dutch origin, literally meaning ‘hawker of salve.’ In the Middle Ages the word ‘quack’ meant ‘shouting.’ The quacksalvers sold their wares on the market shouting in a loud voice.

‘Health fraud’ is often used as a synonym for quackery, but quackery’s salient characteristic is aggressive promotion (‘quacks quack!’) rather than fraud, greed or misinformation. ‘Pseudo-medicine’ is a term for treatments known to be ineffective, regardless of whether their advocates themselves believe in their effectiveness.

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August 7, 2013


Guido [gwee-doh] is a slang term for a lower-class or working-class urban Italian American. Originally, it was used as a demeaning term for Italian Americans in general. More recently, it has come to refer to Italian Americans who conduct themselves in a thuggish, overtly macho manner.

The time period in which it obtained the latter meaning is not clear, but some sources date it to the 1970s or 1980s. The term is derived from either the proper name ‘Guido’ or the Italian verb ‘guidare’ (‘to drive’). Fishermen of Italian descent were once often called ‘Guidos’ in medieval times.

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