Word of the Year: Dithering or Bass-Ackwards


The 2009 Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Year list is based on actual user lookups to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and Online Thesaurus. This year’s traffic was generated by topics and events ranging from Michael Jackson to H1N1 to the recession and, of course, politics. The word of the year that received the highest intensity of searches over the shortest period of time is “admonish.”From Merriam-Webster.com

HOWARD MEGDAL: While I applaud Merriam-Webster for correctly identifying the sound and fury signifying nothing from the far right as the dominant characteristic of 2009, I believe they picked the wrong word to truly embody the movement.
Instead, I think we need to focus on the word, uttered by Sarah Palin in an interview with Barbara Walters. This towering stateswoman went with the utilitarian economic indicator “bass-ackwards” regarding her thoughts on the Obama approach to the most complicated, difficult recession in many a decade.
Oh yes: bass-ackwards is the word of the year.
Bass-ackwards describes the way in which the discredited portion of the electorate was given an outsized voice in political coverage by a media that often rewards the loudest voices.
Bass-ackwards covers the Republican approach to 2009, using a lack of governing as a reason to balance reality with the most disgusting distortions, figuring the average would play to their advantage.
Bass-ackwards even covers Sarah Palin, who has written a book without first having any significant insights or ideas, and whose very presence in American life has to do with a decision to nominate her as Vice-President and find a way to make her seem plausible later.
Now, with the President on the verge of success with a health care bill, all we can hear about are his failures. Somehow, reducing the number of jobs lost each month doesn’t qualify as success for the stimulus package. And the package should have been bigger anyway, never mind that the one that passed had the minimum number of votes necessary in the U.S. Senate.
He’s also a political drag. Look at New Jersey, where Jon Corzine lost. And ignore the preceding polls that had Corzine in the 30s when Obama was in the mid-60s. Or look to Virginia, where Creigh Deeds lost. Never mind his work to actively separate from Obama, or his inability to have a press conference without calling someone “young lady.”
So here’s hoping that 2010 restores some of the logic we saw in 2008. Of course, members of the House are all running for re-election, and many of the Democrats think their ticket to electoral success is to doom the very health care bill whose failure will ensure their defeat.
What can I say? It’s been a bass-ackwards kind of year.


DAVE TOMAR:  Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘Dithering’ as a weird old-timey word that nobody ever uses . . . until 2009, when former Vice President and long time dark overlord of the reptilian humanoid contingent of the Republic Party Dick Cheney invoked it to describe President Obama’s inaction on Afghanistan.  Within hours of an appearance in which Cheney chided Obama for meditating too long on his promise to raise troop levels in the war-torn Central Asian state, the word ‘dithering’ was mysteriously replicated across the Republican spectrum.  From Glen Beck to Sarah Palin; Chuck Norris to Rush Limbaugh; Lou Dobbs to that muttering crackpot on the street corner who looks suspiciously like Lou Dobbs, the colorful cast of poorly aged Muppets constituting the new right uttered this word with a suspicious regularity.

On one hand, it’s classic Rovian strategy: insert a single word or phrase into the political lexicon of your base and pound it home through every available avenue until it seems to take on some greater actual meaning.  Maverick, Rogue, Detainees, Shock and Awe.  Karl Rove isn’t stupid but he knows how to communicate with stupid people.  As much as I had to validate Howard’s fixation on Sarah Palin, this makes her a real threat.  If you can keep her out of situations where she needs to speak in complete sentences or propose fully constructed thoughts, she will have some success.

But ‘Dithering?’  Karl Rove, not your best work.  Who says dithering?  How many gun-toting anti-communist tractor-pull fans have ever pulled out the word dithering in a conversation before 2009?  How many do now?  I’d really be interested to know.  I have no doubt that ‘dithering’ was selected for its salience in a conversation.  If you throw a ‘dithering’ out there, lord knows you mean business.  For your benefit, here are a couple of sentences in which ‘dithering’ might have commonly be used:

“Say Archibald, do cease your dithering and select a mallet for the next circuit.”

“That dithering old fool spilled mead all over my frock.”

“President Kennedy, enough of your dithering.  If we don’t nuke the Cubans now, the Russians have already won.”

Dithering is the Word of 2009, a reflection both of a Republican party that remains firmly entrenched in the strategies that have defined it for the last decade and of a media outlet for this party that is a lampoon of its own party.  Really, they could not have picked a sillier word, presuming that Sarah Palin couldn’t possible pronounce vacillate without saying something dirty.  She can’t even pronounce ass-backwards.  I guess we’ll see though.  Dithering could be due for a rebirth.  Here are some situations in which dithering might now commonly be used:

“The reason that the members of our white brotherhood struggle to find work is because of the dithering minorities.”

“You dithering bitch, that’s my brother!”

“I got so drunk on Miller Light and beef jerky that I done dithered in my jeans.”

Hmm.  I’m starting to see the appeal of this choice.  Dithering is a wonderfully versatile word. Back-asswords really only has the one meaning.  I do think in a way though, Howard and I are saying the same thing right now.  Truly, the Republican Party has raised the bar for political discourse.


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One Response to Word of the Year: Dithering or Bass-Ackwards

  1. rmiller4 says:

    how about “I have been dithering all day, now I am having trouble seeing. Coincidence?”

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