Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nouning, in a terrifying context

In the last couple of days, audience members at McCain and Palin rallies have been inciting violence against the opposing presidential candidate. This may be the most deeply disturbing political development in recent times, at least for those of us who remember the 1960s and 1970s. This started with stuff like somebody yelling 'terrorist' or 'treason' at the mention of Obama's name. And this is surely fueled by people introducing McCain and Palin with references to Barack Hussein Obama.

Now it has escalated to a person in the crowd yelling 'kill him' (is that like something from the Bible?), and now NBC reports that a man yelled "off with his head" yesterday at the mention of Obama's tax plan. It makes me literally queasy to read and hear things like this. Can we assume the Secret Service is tracking these people down and dealing with them? Why aren't McCain and Palin denouncing this stuff, on the spot, or even afterwards?

Yesterday, after noting how often Obama's middle name is being used at McCain/Palin events, Josh Marshall commented at TPM:

Given the regularity of the cries of "treason" and "terrorist" and the like, and the frequency with which the screamers seem in oddly convenient proximity to the mics, we should probably be considering the possibly that these folks are campaign plants. It happens all the time. It's just that usually they don't scream out accusations of capital crimes.

Late Update: A thought. At what point do they start burning Obama in effigy at the Palin rallies?

Today, after noting the NBC story, he's updated:

Like I said, I think it's going to take a few burning in effigies to catch people's attention at this point.
Now, Josh Marshall clearly has a stronger stomach than I do in his political humor. But the politics aside, the turn of phrase there is striking. It looks like it's not a unicum, but close – google has only a couple of other instances. Peevologists like to get excited about putting the plural -s on something other than the head, like this:
brothers in law ~ brother in laws
attorneys general ~ attorney generals
sons of bitches ~ son of a bitches
The forms on the left sound downright formal and archaic to me, things I'd use only in super-form writing. So, that's not the problem with the form for me. (The missues doesn't find Marshall's usage nearly as odd as I do, and I think she finds 'burnings in effigy' at least equally OK.) It's the nominalization itself that doesn't work for me, and I normally really like novel-sounding forms of various sorts. What is it about this one? Is it a semantic thing, that burning somebody in effigy doesn't seem coherent enough as an event that the nominalization is weird? That's something that happens as a part of some other event, like a riot:
*It'll take a few occupying the administration buildings!
*How many storming the barricadeses will it take?
What the heck is going on here?

Image from here.


The Ridger, FCD said...

Hmm. Brother-in-law I always say brothers; attorney general I say generals; and sons of bitches is the only thing that even makes sense (son of a bitches? "a bitches"?)

But while I'd choose (if forced to pick between the two) "burnings in effigy", "burning in effigies" doesn't really sound all that bad. Maybe it's because "effigy" is a word that really only gets used with "burning in"?

Anyway, I really think I'd have written "a few burnt effigies" or "a few effigy burnings".

(And I wish somebody would at least call them on this.)

Ollock said...

I agree that the "burning in effigies" is strange, but then I tend toward the "brothers-in-law" variants a good bit.

Mr. Verb said...

Yes, Ridger, 'effigy burnings' would work for me to. It's disgraceful that they haven't been called on it.

Around here, we have 'effigy mound' for the ancient mounds in various shapes, so the collocation is not as limited here as it is in most of the country.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting perspective on the underlying (not the linguistic) issues:

The Ridger, FCD said...

I forgot to say you can't really say "sons of a bitch" because then it sounds like you're insulting their mother, not them...

Karen said...

Well, either "burnings in effigy" and "burning in effigies" sound ok to me.

I think that "the burning of someone in effigy" was a fairly common practice at one time. That nominalized usage works fine for me. A google search of "the burning in effigy" returns 404 results.