The weird, new language of the 2016 election

This is why your Twitter feed is filled with 'deplorable.'

Feb 28, 2020, 9:47 pm*


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Political rhetoric has reached new levels of absurdity in this bizarre and grotesque election year, and often, the swirling buzzwords that made us want to crawl into a hole and hide until Nov. 9 were first spoken by the candidates themselves. It was enough to keep those of us looking to maintain some semblance of sanity off Twitter, the echo chamber amplifying every jab and soundbite to ear-splitting virality.

In order to catalogue the true depths of the discourse, Vocativ analyzed the way popular phrases introduced by candidates and their loyal followers took off on social media over the course of the election cycle—words which may linger in the lexicon long after we choose our next president.

Of the bevy of insults used by Donald Trump to describe opponents, “crooked” was perhaps his favorite. After dispatching “Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco,” he debuted the nickname “Crooked Hillary” in April while talking about her Wall Street ties, much to the delight of his supporters. He also recently began using this fun adjective in reference to the press, specifically stating that the “media is more crooked than Crooked Hillary—that’s a lot.”

Since he first spoke the words, usage of the adjective has skyrocketed, hitting peak levels on Sept. 27, the day after the first presidential debate.

Another common insult of Trump’s is “low-energy,” which he has used to describe both Clinton and Jeb Bush. He first tried it on for size on Bush late in the summer of 2015 and from there on out, he was like a dog with a bone. The New York Times specifically wrote of how desperately Bush was trying to “escape” his new labeling, which seemed to stick, eventually leading to that unforgettable “please clap” moment.  Riding on that success, Trump decided to recycle the word, using it to demean and criticize Clinton for allegedly “tak[ing] naps for four or five hours” about a year later.

Since then, his usage of the phrase has been not only repeated by supporters but also turned against him, like when he gave an exceptionally bored-sounding interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe back in April.

Trump’s supporters, like the man himself, are fond of “politically incorrect” social media usage, ridiculous tweetstorms, and offensive memes. Their voracious tweeting has driven the words “cuck” (an abbreviation for cuckold, tacked as a prefix onto other adjectives, like “cuckservative”) and “white genocide” to unprecedented volumes on Twitter throughout the course of the election cycle.

White genocide is a term used by largely neo-nazis and alt-right Trump supporters to describe their conspiracy that policies like increased immigration/refugee intake and gun control are a systematic approach to turn the white race into a minority and eventually become extinct. The Republican presidential candidate thrust it into the spotlight by retweeting a post from a Twitter user called “WhiteGenocideTM.” The tweet in question was a photoshop job of Jeb Bush begging outside Trump Tower, and was retweeted over 4,300 times.

“Cuck” is another alt-right favorite, as explained by the Daily Stormer, one of the movement’s biggest “news” sites. According to Stormer founder Andrew Anglin, it is “the perfect description for a modern epidemic that is destroying our nations, our societies, and our souls.” That being, a term used to describe a man who knowingly allows his female partner to have sexual relations with other men, a “metaphor” for the way they believe liberal politicians today take pleasure in their nations being taken advantage of. To that end, a “cuckservative” is a male politician that is willing to make compromises, appease liberals with political correctness, or otherwise “emasculate” himself by acting like a “beta male” within the political realm. The biggest “cuck” day on Twitter so far this election cycle was Oct. 8, the day after the Trump tapes came to light. So who are the cucks in this scenario? All the members of the GOP establishment that withdrew Trump support and endorsement after news he had told Billy Bush he can sexually assault women because of his fame.

While many blame Trump and his cronies for most of the social media mudslinging, Clinton is not entirely blameless. In a moment seized by opponents and the media at large, she added the word “deplorable” to the election vernacular. “To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” she said, adding that they’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, or otherwise bigoted. It’s a term that Trump supporters quickly co-opted, working it into their Twitter display names and everyday dialogue.

Since Clinton first used the word—part of the English language since the 17th century but hardly a colloquialism—its Twitter use skyrocketed, appearing 31 times as often as the night before. It’s even made its way outside of politics and into general dialogue. The Producers Guild of America recently used the descriptor in reference to Warren Beatty’s new film credits, for instance.

“Unhinged” is another word the Clinton campaign can claim responsibility for, perfectly describing how Trump handled himself during the first presidential debate, interrupting Clinton and sniffling frequently. The descriptor soared in popularity the day after, as Clinton supporters mocked Trump’s behavior and again after the Republican candidate announced that the “shackles have been taken off me,” on Twitter. There was also quite a bit of “unhinged” chatter observed the day following the vice presidential debates as Trump supporters attempted to use the Dems language to call out Tim Kaine.

Similarly, Clinton supporters have taken to the term “unfit,” as a descriptor of Trump, drawing from Obama’s first assertion of this months prior. It’s a subtle dig at Trump’s mental competency that he has (naturally) parroted back at Clinton in his trademark I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I fashion.

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*First Published: Oct 25, 2016, 7:00 am