Palookas, palookaville, the palooka party, and etymology of the word

 

Commenter “buzzsawmonkey” posted the following in a discussion on PJMedia. Agree or disagree, the metaphor is rather colorful.

“The Republicans are what Orwell called “a permanent and pensioned opposition.” They are the inflatable doll in the passenger seat that enables the Democrats to drive in the carpool lane.

More properly, they are the Palooka Party. They see their role as taking dives for the Democrats for the guaranteed short money, as a palooka fighter in a 1930s pulp-fiction story would take a dive for [the] kid being groomed by the gambling syndicate for a shot at the title. The Republicans’ job, as palookas, is to make it look good—put up a flurry of opposition before getting showily knocked out in the sixth round.

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan don’t want to govern—nor do the other palookas in their party who voted to put them where they are. They want to go back to the safe business of taking dives for the guaranteed short money.”

The last sentence echoes this quote from the movie “On The Waterfront” (1954):

Terry: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Charlie: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. […]

The word “palooka”  appears to have been coined in the 1920s by Variety sports writer Jack Conway, as a term for “a mediocre prizefighter”. Wikipedia (caveat lectorclaims it was derived as a kind-of spoonerism from the ethnic slur “Polack”. However, the talk page for the article suggests a much more plausible etymology: the Italian word pagliuca (a Southern dialect diminutive of paglia=straw or chaff), i.e. “little straw [guy]”. It’s hardly a stretch to assume that Mafiosi engaged in match-rigging would have referred to the designated loser as a pagliuca —which an English speaker unfamiliar with Italian would have transliterated as something like palooka.

A more modern form of “designated loser” would be the Washington Generals against the basketball exhibition team, the Harlem Globetrotters. Indeed, that very metaphor can be found online in a US political context, in both directions.

 

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Colorful Dutch idioms and expressions, Part 3

In the final installment of this series, a few more expressions that didn’t make it into Part 1 and Part 2, most of them inspired by the animal kingdom.

Waiting for roast chickens to fall into your mouth. (wachten tot de gebraden kippen in je mond vallen.) Awaiting success and prosperity without making adequate effort toward them.

Which the dogs won’t eat bread of. (Waar de honden geen brood van lusten.) Said of an acrimoniously worded letter or speech, etc.

Having as much understanding of [something] as a cow of eating saffron/of painting. (Evenveel verstand van [iets] hebben als een koe van saffraan eten/van schilderkunst.) Knowing jack all about [something], being clueless about [something].

[looking] Like a cow that sees a passing train (als een koe die een trein ziet voorbijrijden): (1) looking clueless; (2) being taken by surprise, “like a deer in the headlights”. (More Flemish/”Zuidnederlands” than standard Dutch usage.)

Two guys and a horse’s head. (Twee man en een paardekop.) A[n audience/turnout of a] handful of people; ten people and a dog. Also “one and a half guys and a horse’s head” (anderhalve man en een paardekop).

[That fits/matches] like pliers and a pig. (Dat past als een tang op een varken.) Spectacularly, garishly mismatched.

Like a dog [walking though] a bowling game. (Als een hond in een kegelspel.) Unwelcome or unwanted; like a fifth wheel; spare organ at a wedding.

To send one’s cat. (Zijn kat sturen.) Not showing up.

Sparing the cabbage and the goat. (De kool en de geit sparen.) Having one’s cake and eating it too.

Forward the goat! (Vooruit met de geit!) Get on with it!

You can’t pluck a bald chicken/You can’t skin a pebble. (Je kan een kale kip niet pluimen/Je kan niet van men key het vel afstropen.) You can’t skin a stone/extract money from somebody who has none.

We’re lodged at the Monkey Inn. (We zijn in den aap gelogeerd.) We’ve been had/we’re hosed.

A donkey that poops money. (Een ezeltje dat geld schijt.) (1) a source of “rent”/easy money; (2) Ironically, the nonexistent finance of a fiscally unsustainable plan: “What’s going to pay for this, a donkey that poops money?”

That’s goat’s b-llocks. (Dat is kloten van de bok.) This sucks big time. [Dutch can get pretty graphic. “Kloten”/”b-llocks” plays a similar ‘all-purpose expletive’ role in Dutch as the f-word in English.]

Calling a cat a cat. (Een kat een kat noemen.) Saying it like it is, calling things by their name without sugarcoating.

When they want to beat a dog, a stick is readily found. (Als men een hond wil slaan vindt men licht een stok.) If they’re out to “get” somebody, they’ll find some pretext or another.

Little Barber must hang. (Barbertje moet hangen.) His fate’s already been decided: the trial is just for show, and even if he’s found innocent they’ll trump up another charge. From a parable in the classic 19th Century novel Max Havelaar by Multatuli (more in Dutch); said parable was itself inspired by a scene in Act IV of the German Enlightenment play “Nathan The Wise” by Lessing.

A more Pythonesque version:

 

ADDENDUM

He knows where Abraham found the mustard. (Hij went waar Abraham de mosterd gevonden heeft.) (1) He has the straight dope; (2) he knows what it’s all about. The “mosterd” is a corruption of the archaic Dutch word “mutsaard” for a pile of firewood (or shrub wood collected for the same purpose)—both of which appear in the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Gen.22:1-19).

 

Colorful Dutch idioms and expressions, Part 2

The slightly more serious sequel to yesterday’s post.

Choosing eggs for your money. (Eieren voor je geld kiezen.) Choosing the best of a bad bunch; choosing the least unpalatable alternative. Compare French: choisir entre le mal et le pire.

Fitting a sleeve to something. (Een mouw aan iets passen.) Make something work; come up with a workaround for something.

Rowing with the oars you’ve got. (Roeien met de riemen die je hebt.) Making do with available resources; making the best of the situation.

[looking] Like a cow that sees a passing train (als een koe die een trein ziet voorbijrijden): (1) looking clueless; (2) being taken by surprise, “like a deer in the headlights”. (More Flemish/”Zuidnederlands” than standard Dutch usage.)

That’s still standing in children’s shoes. (Dat staat nog in de kinderschoenen.) This is still in its infancy; that’s not yet ready for prime time; that [technology] is “for early adopters only”.

Childhood diseases. (Kinderziekten.) Metaphorically, “teething troubles” of a new technology or device.

Hanging something off the big bell. (Iets aan de grote klok hangen.) Shouting something from the rooftops, publicizing something all over. From the days when church bells were rung to announce great tidings or calamities.

Turning over every dime. (Elk dubbeltje omdraaien, kwartjes in twee bijten.) Being very frugal.

Biting quarters in two. (Kwartjes in twee bijten.) Being excessively frugal (even by alleged Dutch standards).

Hopping out of the dance. (De dans ontspringen.) Escaping in the nick of time.

He’s been hit by the mill. (Hij heeft een slag van de molen gehad.) He’s a few sandwiches short of a picknick/a few bytes short of a valid checksum; he’s addle-brained.

[Tastes] like a little angel peeing on my tongue. (Alsof een engeltje over mijn tong piest.) Tastes awesome (usually said of beverages).

Living like G-d in France. (Leven als G-d in Frankrijk.) Living carefree and in the lap of luxury.

Living on a big foot. (Leven op grote voet.) Living high on the hog.

Putting the flowers out. (De bloemetjes buitenzetten.) Go out celebrating.

Holding a hand over someone’s head. (De hand boven iemand’s hoofd houden.) Covering for somebody, keeping somebody as a protégé.

Breaking a lance for somebody. (Een lans voor iemand breken.) Going to bat for somebody, standing up for somebody. From medieval jousting tournaments, presumably.

Putting somebody in the little sun. (Iemand in het zonnetje zetten.) Singling someone out for public praise.

Can be glued with a wet finger (is met een natte vinger te lijmen). Is very gullible. “Lijmen” (to glue) is also used metaphorically for “to butter up”.

When the shepherd is astray, his sheep will wander. (Als de herder verdwaalt dolen de schapen.) When leadership is weak or indecisive…

We’ve been kosher-slaughtered. (We zijn gesjochten.) Our goose is cooked; we’re done; we’re f—ed. From Yiddish shoichet or shechter [Jewish ritual slaughterer]. I will dedicate a separate post to the many Yiddish-derived idioms in Dutch.

Getting a fresh nose. (Een frisse neus halen.) Going out for some fresh air.

Always mourning and marrying. (Altijd rouwen en trouwen.) Life always has good and bad times; we have to take the good with the bad.

Sucking something out of his thumb. (Iets uit zijn duim zuigen.) Making something up out of whole cloth; pulling something out of his behind.

Cat in the box. (Kat in ‘t bakkie.) Easy-peasy.

Like a penny whistle. (Als een fluitje van een cent.) (1) Easy-peasy; (2) “like a walk in the park” [compared to something more serious].

It runs like off a slate roof. (Het gaat van een leien dakje.) Everything is going smoothly. Conversely: Het gaat niet van een leien dakje: this ain’t easy.

What do I have hanging off my bike? (Wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen.) What am I dealing with this time?

Needed like bread. (Broodnodig.) Highly necessary, crucial, essential. I remember a joke about some losing soccer team supposedly having hired two new Danish coaches: Høgnødig and Brødnødig.

Working oneself into nests. (Zich in nesten werken.) Getting oneself into trouble; getting caught up in (needless) complications. From what bird’s nests can do to the mechanics of a windmill.

Being well-beaked. (Goed gebekt zijn.) Being eloquent; having the gift of gab.

Too many notes in his tune (Teveel noten op zijn zang.) Making too many demands, too big for his britches.

When Easter falls on a Friday/When Easter and Pentecost fall on the same day/On St.-Juttemis [nonexistent].) (Als Pasen op een vrijdag valt/Als Pasen en Pinksteren samenvallen/Op Sint-Juttemis.) When Hell freezes over; never.

Getting Spanishly anxious. (Het Spaans benauwd krijgen.) From the Spanish occupation of the Lowlands in the 16th Century, culminating in the Eighty-Year War and the split between (Catholic) Flanders and the newly independent (Protestant) Netherlands.

The wages of the world are ingratitude. (Ondank is ‘s wereld’s loon.) Also: gratitude is a little flower that grows in few gardens. (Dankbaarheid is een bloemetje dat in weinig hoven bloeit.) Compare:

Colorful Dutch idioms and metaphors, Part 1

In honor of April Fools Day, here is a post on some colorful and/or humorous idioms in the Dutch language. The Dutch sense of humor is very earthy — often venturing into the unprintable, but not always so. Being historically a nation of seafarers and merchants, as well as of farmers reclaiming land from the sea, nautical, agricultural, and trade metaphors often recur in idioms.

Note I am not making any of these up, despite the day: Rest assured even the drollest idioms below were still in common use as I was growing up, and most of them still are.

 

Animals and agriculture

Talking about little cows and calves. (Over koetjes en kalfjes praten): engaging in smalltalk.

The odd duck in the raft (De vreemde eend in de bijt.) The odd man out.

Now the monkey pops out of the sleeve. (Nu komt de aap uit de mouw.): now we find out what’s really going on; now they show their true colors.

We’ll wash that little pig. (We wassen dat varkentje wel.): We’ll take care of that.

Watching for the cat to come down from the tree. (De kat uit de boom kijken.) Waiting for the other party to make a move. From the behavior of a dog who’s chased a cat into a tree.

Pleasing somebody with a dead sparrow. (Iemand blij maken met een dode mus.) Placating somebody with a concession or benefit of no real value.

You can get rid of your egg here. (Hier kan je je ei kwijt.) Here you can speak freely, say what’s on your mind.

That one won’t lay him any wind eggs. (Dat zal hem geen windeieren leggen.) This will be a lucrative investment. “Wind eggs”, i.e. eggs with missing or defective shells, obviously cannot be gathered and sold.

Now my clog is breaking. (Nou breekt mijn klomp.) Now I’m completely stumped, now I really don’t get it.

Why are bananas bent? (Waarom zijn de bananen krom?) Metaphor for a pointless question nobody needs to know the answer to. Also: Why does a donkey have two long ears? (Waarom heeft een ezel twee lange oren?)

Water/Nautical:

The best helmsmen are always ashore. (De beste stuurlui staan altijd aan wal.) Those who don’t do always know better than you; those who can’t, teach.

Fishing behind the dragnet. (Achter het net vissen.) Being on a wild goose chase; wasting futile efforts. Like trying to fish behind a trawled dragnet, where there would be no fish left.

This adds no sods to the levée/dike. (Dit zet geen zoden aan de dijk.) This doesn’t help any/doesn’t add anything/isn’t helpful. A large portion of Dutch landmass has been patiently reclaimed from the sea since the Middle Ages, and dikes as well as windmills were a central part of that.

Trade:

Handing out the sheets. (De lakens uitdelen.) Being in charge. From medieval days, when textile manufacturing was a cottage industry.

He didn’t eat any of that cheese. (Daar heeft hij geen kaas van gegeten.) He doesn’t know jack about the subject.

Wanting ringside seats for a dime/to sit in the front row for a dime. (Voor een dubbeltje op de eerste rij willen zitten.) Demanding or expecting an unrealistically good deal.

Getting a cookie of your own dough. (Een koekje van eigen deeg krijgen.) Getting a dose of your own medicine.

It’s for the baker. (‘t Is voor de bakker.) That’s essentially done/taken care of. (When the kneaded dough is handed to the baker, most of the work has been done.)

Every little cheese has its little holes. (Elk kaasje heeft zijn gaatje.) Nobody/nothing is perfect.

Church:

Struggling like a devil in a holy water basin. (Zich weren als een duivel in een wijwatervat.) Resisting like mad.

The bullet went through the church. (De kogel is door de kerk.): the decision has been made, the parties are committed. Historically, there was a tacit agreement that churches were not fired upon in battle: when this did happen, it meant the belligerent was going for broke.

Weather:

Disappearing like snow under the sun. (Verdwijnen als sneeuw voor de zon.) Metaphor for supplies, resources, or cash reserves being depleted rapidly.

Tall trees catch a lot of wind. (Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.) (1) Successful people generate a lot of envy. (2) Tall poppies stick out and catch flak.

For free, you get the sunrise. (Voor niets gaat de zon op.) TANSTAAFL — There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

 

 

 

“Deplorables” as a “geuzennaam” (linguistic reappropriation)

Today the 45th President of the United States will be inaugurated. I did not vote for him, and many of my friends voted not for him as much as against his opponent. I wish the new POTUS strength, guidance, and clarity of vision, as any POTUS has his work cut out for him right now.

His supporters, both the enthusiastic and the reluctant, are referring to themselves as “Deplorables”, or even, with a pun on a musical and classic novel, “Les Déplorables“. This is actually a classic example of “linguistic reappropriation” at work: Trump’s opponent, Hilary Clinton, had referred to Trump supporters — or indeed to the half of the country that doesn’t vote D — as “a basket of deplorables”. Trump supporters rallied around the insult and took it up as a “nom de guerre” (battle name). [I still believe that was the moment she lost the election.]

This phenomenon is actually quite old, and the Dutch language even has a word for such an insult reappropriated for self-identification: “geuzennaam“. The term goes back to the 16th Century, during the Spanish rule over the Lowlands.

In Brussels, on April 5, 1566, a group of several hundred minor nobles marched to the palace of the Spanish governor, at the time Margaretha Duchess of Parma (an illegitimate daughter of Charles V), in order to present a writ of grievances against the Spanish administration in general, and its brutal repression of Protestantism in particular. (Protestant public sermons, so-called “hagepreken” [hedge preachings], were a capital offense.)

When the Duchess was upset at this disturbance — the wedding feast for her son being in progress at the time — her counselor, Charles de Berlaymont, is supposed to have said, “fear not, Madam, they are nothing but beggars” (N’ayez pas peur Madame, ce ne sont que des gueux.). The petitioners got wind of the term, and promptly called themselves “les Gueux” in French, “de Geuzen” in Dutch. The term stuck and quickly carried over to all opponents of Spanish rule. The bloody repression of the Geuzen by the Duke of Alba would bring on the Eighty-Year War as well as the Dutch Revolt (in which the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands was born).

Some prominent historical examples of “Geuzennamen” in English are “Tories” and “Yankees”. In Middle Irish, Toraidhe meant “outlaw, robber”, and the term was applied as an insult to English loyalists and royalists of various stripes. Somehow the name stuck, and since the 19th Century “Tory” is used by friend and foe to refer to a member or supporter of the Conservative Party.

In the US colonial era, “Yankee” was originally a derisive term for Dutch Americans. Several etymologies are possible: “Jan Kees” (pronounced Yan Case, informal name for “Johannes Cornelis” [John Cornel], two very common Dutch first names), “Janneke” (little John), a corruption of “Jonkheer” (Dutch for “squire”, cf. the German cognate Junker and the origin of the town name Yonkers, NY). During the American Revolution, the British and loyalists made fun of the revolutionaries as “Yankee Doodles”: the song (based on a much older melody) predictably became a revolutionary anthem, and is now a staple of the US military marching band repertoire. Later the term was, of course, reappropriated again…

“Redneck” is another such term. Originally it referred to the sunburns people with light skin color acquire when working fields in the Southern US without adequately protecting themselves from the sun (cf. the cognate Afrikaans term “rooinek” used by the Boers for South Africans of Anglo origin). It then became an insult to Southern whites and their allegedly retrograde ways, then was reappropriated by them as a self-identification.

Languages changes constantly — even as human nature is remarkably unchangeable. And speaking of change: Today we celebrate the end of what has arguably been the most dysfunctional and divisive presidency in the history of the US. As I wish his successor well, I do remember Pete Townshend’s classic lyrics:

I tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We won’t get fooled again…

Neologism of the day “peacock issues”

“Mr. Open Source Software”, Eric S. Raymond, penned this must-read open letter to the D party to please get its act together , lest they consign themselves to complete irrelevance.

I’m starting to be seriously concerned about the possibility that the U.S. might become a one-party democracy.

Therefore this is an open letter to Democrats; the country needs you to get your act together. Yes, ideally I personally would prefer your place in the two-party Duverger equilibrium to be taken by the Libertarian Party, but there are practical reasons this is extremely unlikely to happen. The other minor parties are even more doomed. If the Republicans are going to have a counterpoise, it has to be you Democrats.

Donald Trump’s victory reads to me like a realignment election, a historic break with the way interest and demographic groups have behaved in the U.S. in my lifetime. Yet, Democrats, you so far seem to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

The whole long essay is a must-read that I cannot do justice by selective quoting. Unfortunately it will fall on deaf ears among those who need it most.

In passing, ESR coins a new term:

Speaking of virtue signaling, another thing you need to give up is focusing on peacock issues […] while ignoring pocketbook problems like the hollowing out of middle-class employment.

Again, this advice has nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of individual peacock issues and more with a general sense that the elites are fiddling while Rome burns. For the first time since records have been kept, U.S. life expectancy went down during the Obama years, led by a disturbing rise in suicides and opiate addiction among discouraged unemployed in flyover country. A Democratic Party that fails to address that while it screws around with bathroom-law boycotts is willfully consigning itself to irrelevance.

“Peacock issues” are related to Thomas Sowell’s use of the term “mascots” and to “virtue signaling“, as ell as to the psychological concept of a proxy. They are issues that affect only a very small number of people (and that could be addressed ad hoc with fairly little effort) but are priceless as feathers to preen, and flags to wave to ‘rally the troops’ and instead push a sweeping agenda. Any actual benefit to the people involved in the peacock issues is secondary, if not outright irrelevant.

The use of “peacock issues” is of course not limited to the Brahmandarin political left  — they have just become egregiously addicted to the tactic in recent years.

 

Forget “antisemitism”: call it what it is, “judeophobia”

Arab and Islamic apologists have in the past tried to claim that they cannot be anti-Semites, since they themselves are Semites. Of course, the word was originally coined by the German anti-Jewish agitator Wilheim Marr as a pseudoscientific-sounding alternative for “Judenhass” (Jew-hatred), when he founded his Antisemitenliga in 1879. Marr was only concerned with Jews and not at all with any other Semitic people, and in practice the word has never meant anything other than bigotry against Jews. 

I have always preferred the unambiguous alternative “judeophobia”. My daughter wondered if it was patterned on the word “homophobia”. In fact, the word “judeophobia” was first proposed in 1882 by the physician and proto-Zionist activist Leon Pinsker, in his pamphlet Selbstemanzipation (Auto-Emancipation):

A fear of the Jewish ghost has passed down the generations and the centuries. First a breeder of prejudice, later in conjunction with other forces we are about to discuss, it culminated in Judeophobia.[…]

Judeophobia is a psychic aberration. As a psychic aberration it is hereditary, and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years it is incurable.

He goes on to explain the irrational character of judeophobia (a phobia, medically speaking, being exactly that: an irrational fear), its foundation on superstition, and the futility of any attempt to “cure” people of it by rational argument. He then goes on to make the same case as Theodor Herzl would so famously do fifteen years later.

Pinsker has been nearly forgotten outside Israel and well-read Zionist circles (as he never commanded the readership and contacts of Theodor Herzl) but he is remembered by the many Pinsker Streets in Israeli towns.