Ignorance

A comment from Victor Steinbok on my “Flagging Marcomentum” posting of yesterday, in which I noted a recent use of Marcomentum by Republican primary candidate Marco Rubio:

It’s a bit late to the party. X-mentum has been floating around for at least 6 years, much of it sarcastic (mitt-mentum four years ago).

To which I replied:

Well, I never said it was new; I said it was new to me. But then I’m very much not a fan of inside discussions of political campaigns.

That is, the -mentum libfix (which has not been reported in this blog) comes from a world I don’t know a lot about, but it turned up in more general reporting, so it was notable to me.

I was ignorant of the libfix. The question is whether I should have known about it; if so, then I should at least have apologized for my ignorance, and possibly I should now go back and delete the posting as of no significance to anyone but me.

Now I post out of ignorance all the time. In particular, I post about artists, composers, writers, performers, and the like — often of some considerable vintage, not just fresh and recently notable — who are unfamiliar to me, but still of interest to me. In almost all of these cases, the subjects of these postings have substantial followings, in which case a fan might add a comment that artist X, someone I just became aware of, is an old favorite of theirs. (They almost never say, “Well, you’re an ignorant cow, and you shouldn’t be taking up our time with something that everybody should know about.”)

Nobody can come close to knowing everything worth knowing; we’ll all be ignorant of a great many things, even though there are enthusiasts or specialists or people who are specially situated (say, who live in a place where the subject is something or someone of local significance) who know a good bit about the matter. In general, I figure that if I didn’t know about the matter, there are probably lots of other people in my readership who are similarly ignorant and would be happy to hear about it.

The same is true of linguistic usages. Nobody can be expected to know about the  practices of all communities of use, including all those distinguished by geography, sociocultural group, or purpose, so it’s often useful to post about details of, say, Australian English, AAVE, or business usage.

In the case at hand, I simply wasn’t into the language of political campaigning, so Marcomentum struck me as entertaining, especially as coming from the man himself. In this case, there turns out to be a nice discussion by a lexicographer of the popular and trendy, Mark Peters, writing on 7/27/15 on the commercial site Vocabulary.com (which comes with a free dictionary component):

Do you feel the Trump-mentum? (If so, please adjust your tinfoil hat.) Do you feel the Bernie-mentum? (I need to read more about Bernie Sanders to think of an appropriate joke.) Or are you playing it safe and enjoying a more centrist political force like Hillary-mentum or Jeb-mentum?

Whether you like or loathe it, I bet you’ve at least noticed the return of –mentum: a suffix that fills the Internet during election season much as a sulfurous smell fills hell. This suffix is also a terrific reminder of a sad truth: the media will never, ever treat a presidential election as anything more than a sporting event with fewer concussions.

While ­–mentum words fill Twitter—often as hashtags—they’re far from limited to the fringes of English. You can find plenty of such terms in the headlines too,

… Of course, there are synonyms for the common Bernie-mentum and Trump-mentum. My favorite alternative shows up in a Washington Post blog: “Another new Washington Post poll finds that The-Donald-Mentum is soaring among Republicans, but with a caveat…” If you don’t like Bernie-mentum, you can also call it Bern-mentum or Sanders-mentum. Of course, front runners Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are represented by Hillary-mentum (or ­Hill-mentum) and Jeb Mentum (or Bush-mentum). And you can find a –mentum word for just about any candidate running. These terms include Marco-mentum, Kasich-mentum, and Chafee-mentum.

Mentum mania can be traced back to 2004, when presidential candidate Joe Lieberman made a groaner of a joke, referring to his Joementum. This coinage was so awful and perfect that it got a lot of attention, and soon –mentum found itself attached to anyone trolling for votes. The failure of Lieberman only added to the meaning of the suffix: -mentum is inherently a little untrustworthy. You have momentum now, but what does that really mean? It’s the nature of the endless election season for the wind to shift on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. Meaningful momentum is hard to find.

By the time I found Mark’s piece, I’d collected examples of, in no particular order:

Jeb-mentum, Trump-mentum, Bernie-mentum, Joe-mentum [referring to Joe Biden, not Joe Lieberman]

plus a non-political example of -mentum:

Mom-mentum: A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing leadership, education, and advocacy to support mothers in meeting today’s personal and professional challenges. (link)

Whatever else comes of this episode, I’ve gotten a new libfix out of it, one that might be only about 10 years old.

2 Responses to “Ignorance”

  1. Gary Says:

    I can antedate your -mentum mention. Joe Lieberman in 2004, via Wikipedia:

    “Prior to his defeat in New Hampshire, Lieberman declared that his campaign was picking up “Joementum”; however, he failed to provide such momentum during the New Hampshire primary debates, held at Saint Anselm College days before the primary”.

    No idea if it’s older than that, but it’s intriguing that the fit of the two words is bigger, in that only the initial consonant differs.

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