Surcame?

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On January 4, Cornel West was asked on MSNBC to evaluate the state of the country and President Obama's performance. On January 5 and 6, Rush Limbaugh carried on at some length about a speech error in Prof. West's answer. On January 7, Ann Althouse joined the conversation.

My modest contribution today is to describe the cited error in a bit more detail, and to offer a small bit of evidence about its likely causes.

First, the source of the error. This took a little while to find, since Mr. Limbaugh didn't name the show or even the channel:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

And just the audio for the crucial part:

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Now, Mr. Limbaugh's comments. The January 5 commentary seems to be behind a paywall, with only the January 6 comments — "Professors Limbaugh and West Put 'Surcame' in Urban Dictionary" — available to those who are not members of his 24/7 Club:

RUSH: We must go back to yesterday's program to illustrate, ladies and gentlemen, the power, the sheer power of this program.  Yesterday we played an audio sound bite by well known activist disguised as a professor, Cornel West at Princeton University.  He's upset with his dear brother Barack Obama.

WEST:  Two years later, we have missed the opportunity, unfortunately.  We didn't get the kind of leadership that we should. The president didn't have enough backbone. He became too milquetoast. He would not fight big business, would not fight the big banks.  He actually surcame too easily to big business and big banks — and, of course, the obstructionism on the right was helping push him to the center; and now, of course —

RUSH:  All right, that's enough.  The word that he used in there, if you were listening to us in the waning moments of yesterday's program was "surcame."  We'd never heard of the word surcame, but we didn't want to be hasty here in our accusations that a distinguished professor at a distinguished institution of higher learning had made up a word.  So I instructed staff here to uncover every possibly dictionary available on the web, find for me the word "surcame."  We knew what he meant: succumbed.  I first instructed the staff to go to the Urban Dictionary, and the staff did.  They didn't find the word "surcame," but the word surcome was found.  It's basically the same thing as succumb but instead it's a slang word used frequently in internet chat rooms.  It is usually used for someone who must give in to the circumstances, usually used to describe something that gave way to death or illness, as in she surcomed to cancer.  While we were discussing this, there was no listing for the word "surcame" in any dictionary you could find on the internet, including the Urban Dictionary.

However, there now is an entry for the word surcame in the Urban Dictionary.  It was entered yesterday.  It was not a listing in that dictionary while we were discussing it.  So as a result of this program and its usage by distinguished professor of political science, Cornel West, the word "surcame" has now been listed in the Urban Dictionary.

And finally, Ann Althouse:

IN THE COMMENTS: Someone calls this solecism "ebonics," and I say:

No, this is nothing like ebonics. It's the opposite of ebonics, if anything. Cornel West may be black, but his speech is not at all ebonics. It's pretentious straining at erudition, which is why it's so damned funny when he screws up.

I would not put up a post making fun of someone who lapses into an ebonics-type usage. I don't see the value in mocking that. I do see big value in puncturing a puffed-up academic — even though political correctness nags at me to refrain from making fun of the way a black person speaks.

I do have some sympathy for West here, though, because I think PC folk have failed — over a long period of time — to give him the feedback that would have kept him from developing this absurdly inflated style of speech, with its danger of missteps like this, and the self-serious demeanor that makes his mistakes especially funny.

My own opinion is that there's reason to think that the original usage was simply a slip of the tongue.

It's obvious that Prof. West meant "succumbed", and from the audio evidence, it's clear that he said something that can plausibly be transcribed as "surcame".  What both Limbaugh and Althouse assume is that this is the result of an eggcorn, in which the basic verb succumb is re-analyzed as a combination of the prefix sur- and the stem come, and that the preterite of this imagined verb then inherits the irregular form come, to yield surcame.

This is a plausible thing to happen, in the abstract. But a quick Google search shows us that Prof. West has used the verb succumb and its preterite succumbed many dozens of times in his books; and no doubt many more times in his speeches and interviews. One example, from Keeping Faith:

So let's consider the "slip of the tongue" hypothesis — is there any evidence for it? Here's the audio again:

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And a transcript:

He became too milquetoast.
He would not fight big business, would not fight the big banks.
He actually surcame too ear- too easily to big business and big banks, and of course …

First, the bound morpheme -came has been primed by the use of became two sentences back.

And second, he starts to say "early" instead of "easily" two words after "surcame", suggesting that the /ɚ/ coda is also over-active. A reasonable guess is that he was teetering between "surrendered to" and "succumbed to", with -came somewhat activated because of "became" — and the result was a blend of all three. This kind of speech error is fairly common. It doesn't mean that the speaker believes that the emergent blend is the appropriate word to use in the circumstances, or even a real word at all.

Putting it all together: it's implausible that Prof. West doesn't know how to form the preterite of succumb; and it's plausible that his production of "surcame" was a simple speech error.

Thus, in my opinion, both Rush Limbaugh and Ann Althouse are piling on for political reasons or because they don't like Cornel West, just as Jacob Weisberg piled on to the Bushisms business. Of course, Weisberg did it for years, while they've only done it once or twice.

[Update-- Ann Althouse disagrees, partly with my analysis but mostly with my too-glib assignment of motive to her. I'll certainly accept her evaluation of her own motivations, but I do feel that using this slip to tag West as a poseur is unfair -- and not because I have any special affection for him or for his perspectives.]

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56 Comments

  1. Rick S said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 8:38 am

    I don't hear the word before "surcame" as "actually". What I hear sort of sounds like "had to", but isn't quite that either. In fact, even the "He" might be involved; it sounds like some kind of palatal affricate. I suspect that the speech error occurred at that point, and "surcame" (and probably "ear-" as well) were part of an extended recovery.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    I agree with the "slip of the tongue" hypothesis, but think that somehow West *also* had in the back of his mind "caved," although he rejected it as too colloquial. You have to remember that West was speaking extemporaneously and fairly quickly, so a lot of things were being processed as he was choosing and articulating his words. Thus, I see what came out as :"surcame" as possibly being the result of "succumb" [intended to be in the preterite] + interference from the past tense of "come" [with further confusion from its homonymity with the "-cumb" of "succumb"] + "cave" [would have been in the past tense, but didn't get very far with it].

    West may have been wrestling between "succumb" as "proper" professorial language and "cave" as casual "bro" talk. What came out was a garbled confusion of all these elements, with "cave" contributing the vowel of the second syllable and itself being reinforced by the initial consonant of the second syllable of "succumb." Thus, according to this analysis which I put forward for consideration, "cave" may have been the key factor that triggered the final product — "surcame" — but was itself so suppressed as to be barely evident.

  3. Yuval said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    …Or maybe "succumb" in his books was the work of an editor?

    [(myl) Maybe, though I doubt it; but you'd have to assume that West never checked the results of the editing, or never noticed this change. Both hypotheses seem implausible to me.

    There must be hundreds if not thousands of hours of West's speech in interviews and recorded discussions, and succumb seems to be a word that he uses fairly often; so I bet that there are other spoken instances out there. And I'd wager that these indicate knowledge of how to pronounce and inflect the word.]

  4. Chris said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 9:03 am

    I agree with the slip of the tongue analysis, but I also wonder if Limbaugh and Althouse weren't trying to create a liberal refudiate?

  5. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » Surcame? [upenn.edu] on Topsy.com said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    [...] Language Log » Surcame? languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2896 – view page – cached On January 4, Cornel West was asked on MSNBC to evaluate the state of the country and president Ozbama's performance. On January 5 and 6, Rush Limbaugh carried on at some length about a speech error in Prof. West's answer. On January 7, Ann Althouse joined the conversation. [...]

  6. Gregory Dyke said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 9:23 am

    I'm more surprised at the recurrent use of the the pronunciation "bidness" in co-occurrence with such general erudite words as "milquetoast". Is that something which might be expected to be found across social classes in some parts of the USA?

  7. bloix said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 9:27 am

    Yuval, I've got a joke for you:
    Q: What do you call an African-American who's a full professor at Princeton, who graduated magna cum laud from Harvard and has published countless articles and over twenty books including an American Book Award winner and two best sellers, and who is one of the best known public intellectuals in America?
    A: A nigger.

    Chris – of course that's what this is about. Note the lead-in. West is black, therefore he can't possibly be a real professor no matter what his credentials, and furthermore he's the same as his "dear brother" Obama [all the uppity coloreds are the same, right?] – and he's using a word from the "Urban" [ie black] dictionary.

    This is stone racism from the ugliest, vilest mouth in America. And he's doing the usual right-wing jujitsu – not acknowledging Palin's error but aggressively attacking a similar fault on someone from the left whose error can be imputed, simply by association, with Obama.

  8. bloix said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 9:32 am

    Gregory Dyke – West grew up in Oklahoma, where "bidness" is standard among all classes of whites and blacks.

  9. Adrian Bailey (UK) said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 9:44 am

    I vote for hypercorrection. Even if one is erudite, it's easy to be nervous in front of the cameras and to doubt oneself.

    [(myl) Do a web search for Cornel West, and check out how often he's been on national TV and radio over the years. It was really hard to find the interview in which this error occurred, because he's in the media several times a week, often at length. He even has his own radio show with Tavis Smiley. Stage fright is the least credible theory of all.]

  10. ShadowFox said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 9:45 am

    Limbaugh is right about one thing–it takes a bit of an effort to look up "surcome". But once you do–and once you ignore UD–it becomes rather obvious that when it is used, it's just an eggcorn, not "slang". And if West was susceptible to this particular form, he would have used "surcome", not "surcame". Why am so convinced of this? A couple of reasons. First, "surcome" gets a number of google hits, although you have to skip the first page to find the interesting stuff. Conversely, there are no actual hits for "surcame" other than references to some version of this story (some on fake news sites that are undoubtedly a viral hazard). And "surcome" shows up in two kinds of situations–the one that was described and another eggorn, one I wish I was making up. "Surcome size". Yup! Some people have absolutely no idea what circumcision is. And UD's claim that it's "slang"? Uhm… no! Just plain wrong. And it's not like "refudiate" that Palin used on multiple occasions–ther simply isn't another "surcame" to make it anything but a slip of the tongue.

  11. Boudica said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    @Bloix
    While I do think Limbaugh is racist, I think his greater motivation in this instance is to discredit a professor. Higher learning is often ridiculed by these people. Althouse even talks about puncturing a puffed-up academic.

  12. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    Now that we're talking about the impingement of politics on language, does anyone have any ideas on Jared L. Loughner's YouTube objections to the Government takeover of English grammar?

    DailyKos offers some clues to "conscience dreaming" but that was pretty obvious.

  13. Xmun said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    Anne B.'s speculation in the comments on Ann Althouse's blog strikes me as plausible (or, at the very least, ingenious):

    'Or maybe West started to say "surmount," then changed his mind halfway through to say "overcome," and scrambled the word as a result. That's pretty much how "refudiate" came into being, isn't it?'

  14. Kylopod said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

    "Forgetting that she was a teacher and Tony was her fourteen year old student, she surcame to his magnetism." — The Wooden Spoon: A Fictional Autobiographical Novel

    "…our tripod surcame to the elements…" — Coastal engineering 1994

    [(myl) It's a plausible eggcorn, as these highly relevant examples attest. But I don't find it plausible that this is what's behind Prof. West's usage, for the reasons that I explained.]

  15. fred lapides said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

    I pay no attention whatsoever to Rush–an annoying fool. As for West, he may be gifted etc (and sure is good with music!) but he also declared some years ago that O.J. Simpson was the victim of racism…he has not yet refudiated that statement.

  16. Mark F. said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    Xmun – But 'surmount' and 'overcome' have exactly the opposite meaning of the concept he wanted. I guess I can imagine "was overcome by" showing up in the back of West's mind and being rejected as too wordy, but still influencing what he ended up saying.

  17. Sili said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

    Not that it matters, but I have inadvertently used "succame" (no r) as the preterite of "succumb" more than once. I've just been lucky that it hasn't yet slipped into print.

    I think that in my case it's a matter of the strong conjugation "come – came" takes up so much of my non-native-speaker attention that it overpowers the far less common word "succumb".

  18. D.O. said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

    To add to a political (ahem, let's call it cultural) rather than linguistic side of this discussion (to which I sadly have nothing to add except that the evidence that the target word was succumbed is somewhat thin), I notice how Prof. West went from "activist disguised as a professor" to "distinguished professor of political science" in two paragraphs, but maybe Mr. Limbaugh was sarcastic. It is also funny how Prof. Althouse congratulates herself on not "making fun of the way a black person speaks". Should we compile a list of peoples with their native dialects of whom Prof. Althouse might also wish to make no fun?

  19. Tom Saylor said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

    I have no problem using the verb "brake" in the present tense, but when it comes to the preterite, I sometimes get tripped up. When I want to say something like "He braked too quickly," the specter of homophony suddenly looms and I'm frightened into saying "He broke too quickly" instead. I know perfectly well that "braked" is correct, but the taboo against using anything that sounds like the wrong preterite form of "break" is deeply ingrained.

    A similar impulse may, as Victor Mair suggests, have been in part responsible for Professor West's gaffe, causing him to say "-came" rather than "-cumbed" in unconscious avoidance of what sounds like the wrong preterite form of "-come."

  20. Ian Preston said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    Google searches for "surcame" might now be dominated by this story but you can still find plenty of instances of "succame" (and there seems to be a use by Eminem at about 0:54 into this video).

  21. Colin said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    West is not, of course, a political scientist: his Ph.D. is in philosophy and his Princeton appointment is in the Center for African American Studies, with an associate appointment in Religion. But God forbid we should expect Rush Limbaugh to get facts right. Bloix is of course fully correct. West is a lighting rod for these people because he's a highly successful scholar, moves confidently in the cultural high grounds of philosophy and religion, and has a public profile. He's rhetorically sure-footed and argues well. Limbaugh and Althouse cannot deal with a black man in a position of cultural authority, cannot confront what he says in terms of its *content*, and are made deeply anxious by his linguistic *facility* — that's the inversion that's going on here.

  22. GeorgeW said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    Althouse says of Sarah Palin's refudiate "Congratulations to wordsmith Sarah and to all her detractors and fans. We just can't get enough of Sarah and her unique way of expressing herself."
    http://althouse.blogspot.com/2010/11/2010-word-of-year-is-refudiate.html

    Yet, West's 'surcame' was, "pretentious straining at erudition, which is why it's so damned funny when he screws up."

    And, her observations are without ideological or, worse yet, racial bias? Hmm.

  23. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

    I would think "surcome" as an eggcorn spelling for "succumb" would be most common among non-rhotic speakers (because otherwise where's the "r" coming from?). Yet West's "surcame" in the audio clip provided is definitely rhotic. I think this makes the pure-speech-production-error theory more likely – it certainly makes the whole situation even more puzzling.

  24. davep said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    fred lapides said: "As for West, he may be gifted etc (and sure is good with music!) but he also declared some years ago that O.J. Simpson was the victim of racism …he has not yet refudiated that statement."

    Simpson could be a victim of racism and could be guilty as hell at the same time. The Time Magazine cover where Simpson's picture was "enhanced" to be darker might be some evidence of the racism.

    http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19940627,00.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OJ_Simpson_Newsweek_TIME.png

  25. Troy S. said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

    I agree, it's probably just a slip of the tongue, judging by his relative disfluency throughout this clip. But, is there an offchance it's an invented past tense form for succumb, based on its phonetic similarity to come?
    /kəm/->/kem/
    /səkəm/->/səkem/

    [(myl) I believe that's (part of) the theory Rush Limbaugh and Ann Althouse are upholding; it's certainly (part of) the one that I'm arguing against.]

  26. swami said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

    From the audio, it seems that he said "succame" when he meant "succumbed," an easy slip of the tongue. In his dialect, he probably pronounces "succumb" as /sərcəm/ (with a muted "r" in the first syllable). That paired with the slip produces "surcame" in the transcription.

    Had he wrote "surcame" in a text, I'd believe he didn't know the proper word. But it was post-fact transcription, which shouldn't be used to undermine his credibility.

  27. Nick L. said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

    Funny. I have known myself to say 'succame', despite my knowing better. I suppose I shall have to simply avoid Ms. Althouse for the rest of my days.

  28. Spell Me Jeff said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

    . . . his speech is not at all ebonics. It's pretentious straining at erudition . . .

    I really can't hear where she gets this. In the whole interview, I hear nothing strained or pretentious. Except for pronunciation and the slip in question, West is in complete control of his idioms. They are perhaps more elevated than the average college freshman, but surely this is to expected of a man with his accomplishments. Certainly there is no attempt to mimic the erudition one associates with, say, William F. Buckley, and thank goodness for that.

    No, it's not ebonics, as Althouse says. It's an intelligent man speaking fluently in an educated manner. With the caveat that he retains the accent we associate with AAVE. This is the only quality in his speech that I can even imagine leads her to observe an "absurdly inflated style of speech."

    So my take on Althouse is something like this: "If a black man wants to use the grammar and vocabulary of an educated white man, he'd better drop the accent, or the effect will be absurd."

    Thing is, I think she really means it. I really suspect the accent has convinced her that West is not in control of the more important aspects of his language. And that's just sad.

  29. Nelida said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

    I adhere to the slip-of-the-tongue interpretation, although I believe it could have been "surrendered" more easily than "succumbed" what he meant. It is easier to slip from "surrendered" to "surcame" than from "succumbed". And it could somehow been associated with the former "became". Just saying.

  30. GeorgeW said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 8:13 pm

    @Spell Me Jeff: If an African-American uses non-standard language (like AAVE), they would be considered uneducated and have no credibility. If they use standard English, "It's pretentious straining at erudition . . ."

    This attitude is expressed quite clearly by Limbaugh who describes West as an, "activist disguised as a professor." Never mind that he actually is a professor.

  31. Trimegistus said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

    Amazing: conservatives make a slip of the tongue and you call them idiots. Liberals make a slip of the tongue, and you call conservatives idiots. Can't call you inconsistent!

    [(myl) If by "you" you mean me, you seem to be willfully ignorant. As the links in the body of post indicate, I devoted dozens of posts to defending George W. Bush against the whole "Bushisms" nonsense. Or is he no longer a conservative?]

  32. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

    Well, the "polluted air of any zeitgeist" + "moral asphyxiation" phrases from the West blockquote about Paul de Man (where he uses "succcumbed" correctly) are "standard English" in a strictly syntactic sense, but stylistically they certainly seem like the sort of thing that might well get a white academic called pretentious and/or a poser. I do think Prof. Liberman's Bushisms parallel makes some sense. If you start with a presupposition about the speaker (let's say, in this case, that he's a pretentious lightweight/poser), confirmation bias will take over and you will be prone to misinterpret the sort of ordinary slips of tongue that everyone makes as evidence of your thesis. (And I assume that Prof. Althouse, like a reasonably high percentage of people who've been around the American academy for the last quarter-century, had a pre-existing view of Prof. West and his rhetorical style and was not deriving her "pretentious straining at erudition" characterization simply from this interview.)

  33. J. Goard said,

    January 9, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

    @J. W. Brewer:

    but stylistically they certainly seem like the sort of thing that might well get a white academic called pretentious and/or a poser.

    Or a gifted prose stylist, which would be my take. I tend to disagree with West's social views more often than not, but I enjoy his prose. (Rarely hear him speak for more than a soundbite.) If anything, his fro and beard style seem pretentiously non-academic, as if we're somehow supposed to find him menacing, when it's clear enough that the philosophy professor is the real deal.

  34. iching said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 12:09 am

    If you start with a presupposition about the speaker (let's say, in this case, that he's a pretentious lightweight/poser), confirmation bias will take over and you will be prone to misinterpret the sort of ordinary slips of tongue that everyone makes as evidence of your thesis.

    This is my feeling also. But if Prof. West made a mere slip of the tongue (which I believe he did) , so did Sarah Palin with refudiate. I would not take either lapse as evidence, on its own, of low English prociency or pretentiousness or anything else. We are all human, we all make mistakes, so what's the big deal? It's regrettable when political debate gets so easily sidetracked from the substantive issues to ad hominem attacks.
    That said, it's still interesting to speculate on the origins and implications of some of these slips. They can be linguistically enlightening and enteraining!

  35. Jason said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 12:42 am

    This is my feeling also. But if Prof. West made a mere slip of the tongue (which I believe he did) , so did Sarah Palin with refudiate.

    The distinction is that West made a genuine slip in the midst of extemporaneous speech, whereas Palin's "refudiate" was a genuine malaproprism in written language. She made it not just once, but repeated it, confirming it was a malapropism and not just a typo or slip.

    I agree that it's trivial: I'm not all that concerned with whether Palin thinks there's a word "refudiate." More worrisome to me is the staggering ignorance of her pronouncements on the Federal Reserve's Quantitative Easing policy, but of course Macroeconomics 101 howlers aren't the sort of thing you can put on a t-shirt, let alone explain to people. So we're stuck with verbal gaffe non-stories.

  36. David Costa said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 1:54 am

    "Amazing: conservatives make a slip of the tongue and you call them idiots. Liberals make a slip of the tongue, and you call conservatives idiots."

    Yes. And the difference is that Palin really thinks that 'refudiate' is a word. I highly doubt West thinks 'surcame' is a word.

    But I think Limbaugh's response is more just calculated racism than idiocy per se.

  37. richard howland-bolton said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 7:45 am

    @ ShadowFox: "Surcome size". Yup! Some people have absolutely no idea what circumcision is.

    Wow!
    James Joyce meets viagra?

  38. richard howland-bolton said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 7:52 am

    @ ShadowFox: "Surcome size". Yup! Some people have absolutely no idea what circumcision is.

    Wow!
    James Joyce meets those people in the TV advert who don't realise that their intimacy problems might be caused by them being in separate baths—and outdoors?

    btw I originally put the "V word" product name, which was more succinct (or perhaps 'surcinct') but it looks as though that was disliked by WordPress.
    I wonder why?? :-)

  39. John Boyd said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 8:21 am

    bloix wrote:
    " Yuval, I've got a joke for you:
    Q: What do you call an African-American who's a full professor at Princeton, who graduated magna cum laud from Harvard and has published countless articles and over twenty books including an American Book Award winner and two best sellers, and who is one of the best known public intellectuals in America?
    A: A nigger.

    Chris – of course that's what this is about. Note the lead-in. West is black, therefore he can't possibly be a real professor no matter what his credentials, and furthermore he's the same as his "dear brother" Obama [all the uppity coloreds are the same, right?] – and he's using a word from the "Urban" [ie black] dictionary.

    This is stone racism from the ugliest, vilest mouth in America. And he's doing the usual right-wing jujitsu – not acknowledging Palin's error but aggressively attacking a similar fault on someone from the left whose error can be imputed, simply by association, with Obama."

    Q. What do you call someone who tells a racist joke and then calls other racists?
    A. A bigot.

    bloix, I listen to Rush regularly and have NEVER heard anything faintly approaching the ugly, vile charges coming from you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

  40. David Costa said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 9:44 am

    "bloix, I listen to Rush regularly and have NEVER heard anything faintly approaching the ugly, vile charges coming from you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

    Actually I think Rush should be a lot more ashamed.

  41. peters said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 10:56 am

    Why does anyone pay any attention to Ann Althouse anymore? Didn't she long ago surcome to being a mere troll?

  42. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    I fear that many commenters in this thread are not leaving knowing anything more than they did when they began. But I have at least learned the interesting linguistic fact that Prof. West's speech is much more rhotic than is typical of American blacks (at a variety of levels of class / formal education), which seems likely to be due to his Oklahoma childhood. (Wikipedia tells me that the speech of white Oklahomans tends to be strongly rhotic when compared to the other Southern dialects with which it shares various commonalities.) I think he's also doing some things with some vowels that sound to my inexpert ear more "Texan" (which I assume = "Oklahoman," I just haven't had enough personal exposure to Oklahomans to have a good sense of how they sound in the wild) than AAVE/generic American Southern, but phonology was never my strong suit so I'm not sure I can describe what I'm hearing there accurately.

  43. nyuu said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    "over" + "come" = "overcome"
    Thinking of "succumb" but not quite making it.
    Substituting prefix: "sur" + "come" = "surcome"
    "became surcome" mixed into "surcame"
    I think it would work for "too early" but he must've decided he said "succumb" when he changed to "too easily" because the preposition doesn't add up.

  44. Kylopod said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    I actually think "surcome/surcame" has a higher chance of becoming an accepted English word than "refudiate."

  45. Ken Brown said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

    J.W. Brewer: "I would think "surcome" as an eggcorn spelling for "succumb" would be most common among non-rhotic speakers"

    I think there would be very little difference in my own connected speech (urban south-east England) between "succumbed to" and "surcome to". The first two syllables are identical for me, so it would hinge on whether the "t" was voiced or glottalised. The vowel of "came" would be different of course.

  46. Kylopod said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

    Before, I drew up two examples from Google Books of the word "surcame." Now I've tried the search with "surcome," and I get more than a half-dozen examples. I'm frankly amazed how common it appears to be in professional writing, literary as well as technical. (I had to filter out the name of a court case called Surcome v. Pinniger.)

    One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine

  47. Zachary Overline said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 3:10 am

    Definitely a slip of the tongue. Educated or not, it's easy for people to conflate words, especially in heated discourse. And I think that "surcame," as you suggest, is actually a very natural mistake in this case, because it took me a few moments to put my finger on what the problem was. (Then again, that may be saying more about me than Cornel West. A-hem.)

    Also, whenever politicians start picking on each other's grammar or word-usage (especially with minor slips like this one), it really starts to reek of red herring and ad hominem attacks.

    At the same time, though, Bushisms back in the day were kind of fun :)

  48. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 11, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    @J. W. Brewer: My impression is that rhoticity varies a good deal in AAVE, especially in speakers from regions where most non-blacks are non-rhotic.

    I've listened to a couple hours of Cornel West on YouTube, seeking but not finding a past tense of succumb, and I noticed one thing I've also heard from an Oklahoman or two: vulnerable pronounced "vunnerable". That is, I can't detect an [l], and the allophone of /ʌ/ is the usual one, not the distinctive one that a lot of Americans (including me) use before /l/. (I think it's lower and backer before /l/ than before other phonemes.)

  49. Keith said,

    January 17, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    Had it not been for the comments on this page, I would never have guessed that this audio clip was the speech of a Princeton professor.

    I didn't know of West before this article, and I'm quite astonished by what I heard.

    He did not strike me as eloquent at all.

    Spell Me Jeff thinks "It's an intelligent man speaking fluently in an educated manner." I disagree.

    It was as if a journalist had taken a random protester from a crowd of disillusioned Democrats, fired up from chanting anti-bailout and anti-banking slogans and asked him to comment on the bailout.

    It sounded like an improvised comment, in the heat of the moment, with hesitations, false starts and in-flight corrections. He talks about "bidness", almost accuses Obama of surcoming too early (prematurely, some might say) before correcting himself to say that Obama simply surcame to easily (implying that the president should have surcome anyway, but should have played harder to get).

    K

  50. IdEstQuidEst said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 8:52 am

    I listen to Rush quite often, and the one thing of which I am certain is that Rush is no racist. Sure he makes fun of certain black people (always on the left), but he makes fun of a LOT of people regardless of race. He doesn't discriminate in this regard. Consider the fact that Rush's call screener "Bo Snerdly" is black, and one of Rush's many guest hosts is Dr. Walter E. Williams, also black. Rush is a huge fan of Thomas Sowell. They are of course, conservatives, but are conveniently ignored by Limbaugh's critics whenever they accuse him of racism. Would a true racist employ a black man as one of his closest assistants, and invite another to be his occasional guest host? [hint: that's a rhetorical question]. The REAL issue here is why the mainstream media has totally ignored the Cornel West faux pas while piling onto Sarah Palin on this refudiate thing. Google "refudiate" or "surcame" using the News Search function and notice the dissimilar results. Refudiate has hundreds of hits, including major newspapers and broadcast networks (NYT, MSNBC, etc.). Surcame has two hits, both from Rush Limbaugh's site. And the Left says there's no liberal bias in the media…

  51. David Costa said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:02 am

    "I listen to Rush quite often, and the one thing of which I am certain is that Rush is no racist."

    I would suggest you check out the new post about Rush today. Or this:
    http://newsone.com/nation/casey-gane-mccalla/top-10-racist-limbaugh-quotes/

  52. David Costa said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 10:56 am

    "The REAL issue here is why the mainstream media has totally ignored the Cornel West faux pas while piling onto Sarah Palin on this refudiate thing"

    a) Sarah Palin is an ex-governor and GOP leader who will probably try and run for President in 2012. West is a professor. Does it really surprise you that the 'liberal media' reports on Palin more?

    b) Palin appears to think 'refudiate' is a real word. I highly doubt West thinks 'surcame' is a word.

  53. IdEstQuidEst said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    "Refudiate" isn't much different from, say, "ginormous" which is a word that I absolutely despise. I'm no fan of "refudiate" either, or "surcame" for that matter. It's just the double standard that I have a hard time accepting. I don't think I've ever seen criticism of ginormous or anyone who uses it. Go to Urban Dictionary and check out all the snide comments regarding Palin in the definition of refudiate. Then do the same for ginormous. The difference is that ginormous has no such snide comments about its inventor or its etymology; it's simply accepted as a real, proper, "cool" word. In fact Merriam-Webster even picked it up. When Palin defended "refudiate" as her right to contribute to the langauge, she was vilified; she was excoriated. She was excoriafied, I say! Liberals, street thugs, hip, geeky IT folk using "ginomous" = GOOD. Republicans, conservatives, pundits using "refudiate" = BAD. No double standard there! Sorry for the digression from the "surcame" track; Dr. West can thank me later.

  54. David Costa said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

    'Ginormous' is a real slang word people actually use. 'Refudiate' is a fake-erudite word Palin came up with due to her fundamental ignorance. It's sad, tho not really surprising, that you can't see the difference.

  55. IdEstQuidEst said,

    January 20, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

    Wow, instead of conceding an obvious point that conflicts with your biases, you instead try to refudiate it! A "real slang" word!. At what exact point in time did ginormous transform from fake, made-up gibberish also based on ignorance to a "real" word??? You must use it a lot "tho" (more slang????) to defend it…

    David Costa said,
    January 20, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

    'Ginormous' is a real slang word people actually use. 'Refudiate' is a fake-erudite word Palin came up with due to her fundamental ignorance. It's sad, tho not really surprising, that you can't see the difference.

  56. David Costa said,

    January 21, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    "Wow, instead of conceding an obvious point that conflicts with your biases, you instead try to refudiate it! A "real slang" word!. At what exact point in time did ginormous transform from fake, made-up gibberish also based on ignorance to a "real" word??? You must use it a lot "tho" (more slang????) to defend it…"

    It's a good thing you're spending time here — you desperately could use some basic knowledge of linguistics.

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