A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

On Norquist

Somehow, the Grover Norquist story eluded me until today, when I stumbled across it at Ldot. The Weekly Standard hashed it out pretty nicely, but there was a small bit at the end that caught my attention:

Pardo also points out that you cannot translate "un-American" directly into Spanish. He uses the Collins English/Spanish dictionary, 1980 edition, in which "un-American"--Norquist's phrase--is translated as "antiamericano"--the word Pardo used in his El Mundo piece. Of course, all this may be a distinction without a difference: the American Heritage Dictionary defines "un-American" as "considered contrary to the institutions or principles of the United States," which sounds a lot like . . . well, "anti-American."

I don't know why I have a particular beef with this passage, except that I've always undestood there to be two different ways of using un-American, albeit one is extremely rarely used, and when it is, it's always by guys like Norquist, who seem to appear on C-SPAN a lot.

Yes, "un-American" is generally taken to mean "anti-American" -- particularly in colloquial usage. But, in the other usage I've heard, people are generally careful to stress the word with a pause and use "air quotes" with it, so as not to be pelted with whatever items may be available in the room for hurling. I take it to have a more benign connotation than the usage that immediately conjures up images of Joseph McCarthy and swastikas in the minds of liberals.

Policy wonk "un-American": not generally thought of as American in character.

McCarthy "un-American": actively subversive toward the American character. Synonymous with "anti-American".

There is a distinction there, but it's not all that little -- at least not in my eyes.

CLARIFICATION: I shouln't say that I've "always" seen "un-American" as having two different meanings. Actually, it's been a relatively recent thing. But, still, it predated the Norquist interview by at least a few years.

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