A tisket a tasket, a controversial basket
by Mellissa Martinez
In one of the most unusual presidential races in the history of the US, it is safe to say that name-calling has taken on a new dimension. Trump has referred to Clinton supporters as losers and dummies, and Clinton has taken significant criticism for her now-infamous reference to half of Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”
Most agree that the comment was not one of Clinton’s strongest campaign moments. Even some liberal language lovers have poked fun at her for using deplorable as a noun and some have wondered why she chose basket over other symbolic containers such as bag, crate or hamper. Word choice aside, the new expression became an overnight sensation, comparable to past campaign-trail gaffes such as Obama’s clinging to guns and religion comment or Romney’s binders full of women snafu.
Not surprisingly, Clinton softened her message after the harsh response from the public. However, she did not pull back on the intended target of her comment—the “bigotry and racist rhetoric” of the Trump campaign. From this, I gather that she believes the ‘deplorables’ are the bigots and racists who have come out to openly support Trump (you know, the David Dukes of the bunch). Certainly, she didn’t mean the hard-working conservatives who perceive her as untrustworthy and prefer a tough-talking Trump. Or did she? Perhaps if we dig a little deeper, we can find out what in the heck a deplorable really is.
Although the adjective ‘deplorable’ can be defined as ‘wretched’ and the verb ‘deplore’ means ‘to regret or disapprove of deeply,’ there is no modern definition for the noun. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the only authentic noun version of deplorable is archaic and was in reference to ills…as in, that old guy is riddled with arthritis and deplorables! Somehow, I don’t think this is what Clinton had in mind—insulting the sick people of the nation would not be a wise campaign choice.
‘Deplorable’ comes from a combination of the prefix de-, which is used to indicate removal or separation and the Latin pl?r?re, meaning ‘to weep bitterly or wail.’ The verb pl?r?re is also the root word of ‘explore’ and ‘implore.’ ‘Explore,’ from the prefix ex- and the Latin pl?r?re, was initially a hunting term meaning “to cry out loudly in search of game.” ‘Implore’ comes from the combination of the prefix –in and pl?r?re, originally meant to ‘invoke or entreat with tears.’ Now it has softened to mean ‘beg’ or ‘beseech.’
Incidentally, there are a few obsolete words in the same family that could be especially useful in this year’s election. In the early 1600s, people could complore, or ‘weep together’—the Romans did this at a ploratorium, or ‘weeping place.’ In the 1800s, the English adjective ploratory described someone who was weeping or mournful.
Given its root, one could surmise that the new version of the noun ‘deplorable’ should refer to ‘a loud outward crier.’ This would indicate that Clinton wasn’t genuinely insulting the group; rather, she was defining them; they are quite vociferous, after all. By creating a new lexical item, Clinton was simply acting presidential. Remember that it was Roosevelt who popularized ‘iffy,’ Jefferson who came up with ‘belittle,’ and even the junior Bush tried to get into the game with ‘misunderestimate.’
As for Trump, he is engaged in a bit of word play himself. Reviving the archaic ‘braggadocious’ is no easy feat, yet thanks to him, the noun ‘braggadocio,’ meaning “the annoying or exaggerated talk of someone who is trying to sound very proud or brave,” was the top dictionary search after this week’s debate!
It appears that many Trump supporters have embraced Clinton’s coinage, which explains the new slew of t-shirts that read Proud to be in the Basket of Deplorables. Perhaps by claiming the phrase, they feel as if they are strengthening their battle cry. I suggest that Trump follow the lead of his admirers and welcome the word that he is so fond of saying himself. It would be refreshing, indeed, to see a t-shirt clad Trump sporting the aphorism, Proud to be in the