Politically adorable

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I wondered when this would happen. Jack Shafer, "Week 18: The Further Perils of Paul Manafort", Politico (Swamp Diary) 9/23/2017 [emphasis added]:

Flynn has hired seven attorneys, and his family has established a legal defense fund for him, stipulating that donations from foreign governments or the Trump campaign or business won't be accepted. Isn’t it adorable that Flynn, who worked for a United Nations klatch of clients now insists on a legal defense entirely made in America?

In current public discourse, adorable is mostly what young children and small fluffy animals are, with the range of reference occasionally expanded to include young women, courting couples, or old people being childish. A small sample of today's adorable headlines: "Feel the full range of emotions with this adorable baby Orioles fan";  "ADORABLE: Baby calf and baby human make friends during photo shoot"; "Kelly Clarkson's Adorable Kids Come Visit Her on Set of 'Love So Soft' Music Video"; "Phoenix Zoo welcomes adorable baby giraffe"; "Marcel The Adorable Therapy Dog Brings Joy To People With Dementia"; "Inside Mandy Moore's Adorable Engagement Party With Her Besties"; "You Will Never Guess Prince Philip’s Adorable Pet Name for Queen Elizabeth"; …

But adorable entered socio-political discourse about a month ago, as a sarcastic insult meant to suggest that ordinary people are small, childish, and unworthy of attention other than as a source of amusement.

Louise Linton, the wife of the U.S. treasury secretary, had instagrammed a picture of herself returning by government jet from a quick trip to Fort Knox to look at piles of gold (yes, really), hashtagging elements of her expensive wardrobe — "#roulandmouret pants #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf  #valentinorockstudheels #valentino".

In response, Jenni Miller, described by the NYT as "a mother of three from Portland, Ore", commented "Glad we could pay for your little getaway #deplorable", where deplorable is an echo of Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" comment.

Linton seems to have been stung, because she responded at considerable length:

She uses forms of adorable twice:

Aw!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable! […]
You're adorably out of touch. […]

The meaning in context is clearly sarcastic — Ms. Miller is framed as one of those little people who are so far beneath Linton that she can view their criticism as amusingly cute, like a mischievous puppy chewing on one of her designer sandals.

Presumably Linton's adorable was primed, consciously or not, by Miller's deplorable. But I wondered at the time whether the word, as well as the attitudes it so effectively expresses, might be common in Linton's social circles.  Unfortunately for my curiosity, this word choice clearly communicated more about Linton than it did about Miller, and so given the wave of negative reactions, we're unlikely to see more examples from others like her.

Still, this way of expressing disdain is too effective to be abandoned, and so I've been expecting to see it picked up by others in contexts that are safely distant from Linton's "let them eat cake" effusion.

Michael Flynn is a perfect target, from that point of view — he's not poor, ordinary, small, fuzzy, young, female, elderly, or visually cute. But by suggesting that Flynn's defense-fund appeal is "adorable", Shafer manages to suggest that Flynn is now a powerless and even pitiable player trying in kittenish ways to escape the much larger and stronger forces threatening him.



  1. djw said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 8:37 am

    I'd be more likely to think "adorable" was just part of this party girl's normal oh-so-cute-me vocabulary than to any echo of "deplorable" from our down-to-earth housewife.

  2. Adrian Morgan said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 9:04 am

    I immediately thought of @scalzi, who often uses the word when Internet trolls (hardly "ordinary people") attempt to be annoying or manipulative. This is the first I've heard of a new trend starting a month ago.

    [(myl) Interesting, and new to me. I guess it's possible that Louise Linton is a fan, or at least has been exposed to @scalzi's usage, given her history in the film industry.

    Obviously @scalzi's intent is sarcastic and dismissive, signaling amused disdain rather than the irritation or anger that trolls presumably want to stimulate. The class prejudice of Linton's response is missing, but perhaps that aspect was incidental to the context, in which a billionaire's wife responds to a complaint about her open display of wealth signifiers.

    Do you know whether others have adopted this way of responding to social-media criticism?]

  3. Rodger C said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 9:19 am

    Evidently the Northern equivalent of "Well, bless his heart."

    [(myl) "Adorable" certainly has a similar effect to "bless your hear", though it's not nearly as widespread in usage — and Linton is Scottish by birth and upbringing.]

  4. Jonathan said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 10:22 am

    When did "klatsch" become "klatch?" Somehow I missed this.

    [(myl) Maybe about the same time that "Schafer" became "Shafer"? Gradual spelling reform in progress…]

  5. J said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 11:10 am

    This did not enter discourse only a month ago! I've been calling Trumpettes adorable for nearly 2 years at least!

  6. mike said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 11:18 am

    Isn't "cute" used in this dismissive way as well?

  7. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 11:45 am

    In a forum so often concerned with the Sinitic how can we ignore the noun Hunanity? I suppose that "wisdom and Hunanity" would be wisdom of a uniquely dry and spicy nature. Personally I think it's too early to drop the initial upper-case, as we've done with diesel, watt, etc.

  8. Paul Kay said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

    Noticing the "lololol" makes me wonder whether "lol" (and variations) have lost all non-sarcastic meaning. Can one write "lol" anymore to genuinely denote mirth?

  9. David D. Levine said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

    This usage goes back to at least 2012: http://weknowmemes.com/2012/05/jk-rowling-youre-adorable/

  10. Graeme Hirst said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

    The sarcastic political use of adorable is certainly not new in Canada. A quick search at Maclean's easily finds examples:

    Although it’s kind of adorable how Ignatieff [leader of the Liberal Party of Canada], at least, is still at least pretending to hold out hope for a blue-ribboned miracle on employment insurance reform. [6 July 2009]

    Okay, so maybe Liberals aren’t that great at rebuilding. But they are trying, and the results are adorable. [9 January 2012]

  11. Norval Smith said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 3:33 pm

    Dan Lufkin. Maybe "hunanity" is a Freudian slip. Do you think she watches Fox News too much?

  12. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 24, 2017 @ 8:59 pm

    @ Norval S. — I think that if Ms Linton had a Freudian slip she would have worn it getting off the plane and mentioned it in her instagram.

  13. Lai Ka Yau said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 2:03 am

    @mike: Definitely – in fact it was used on r/linguistics a while ago, when a user stated that many subfields of linguistics was not science because they were 'just nice and cute observations of language phenomena'…

  14. Lai Ka Yau said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 2:08 am

    (And of course, in the screenshot of Linton's message as well.)

  15. Keith said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 3:58 am

    Louise Linton, the wife of the U.S. treasury secretary, had instagrammed a picture of herself returning by government jet from a quick trip to Fort Knox

    My mind re-ordered words when I read that.

    It became:
    Louise Linton, the wife of the U.S. treasury secretary, had a picture of herself returning by government jet from a quick trip to Fort Knox instagrammed

    And you might want to correct your textual citation of "valentionrockstudheels", because it makes Ms Linton (and the staffer who instagrammed on her behalf) seem less literate and competent than they certainly are, bless them.

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

    In terms of the possible echo of "deplorable," I was intrigued to learn via googling that a few people Out There had coined "totes deplorbs" on the analogy of "totes adorbs," but not really enough to (imho) demonstrate a successful grass-roots snowclonization.

  17. David Kathman said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 1:28 pm

    The sarcastic, condescendingly dismissive use of "adorable" (and "cute") is certainly much older than a month old. I've been seeing it, and occasionally using it, for many years in certain (mostly online) discussion environments in which certain participants take themselves much more seriously than others do. Linton's use of it was totally unremarkable to me.

  18. Chandra said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

    A month ago? That's adorable. (Sorry, I couldn't resist…)

    Chiming in with others to say that this sarcastic usage is unremarkable to me – I feel fairly certain I heard it used as far back as high school (I'm 41).

  19. Jim said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

    Isn't that adorable. You think you've found something new!

    I have seen this used sarcastically like this for probably 20 years, maybe more. Perhaps it was somewhat isolated to the gay community, since there's a clear camp connection. Then again, gays have cribbed from black women a lot over the years, so I doubt we came up with it out of whole cloth either.

    As mentioned above, "Bless your heart" came to mind right away.

  20. Ray said,

    September 25, 2017 @ 7:03 pm

    this whole "adorable" thing is pretty trite by now. in fact, it sounds pretty much like the hack writing from buzzfeed or jezebel or those sad souls who still say "adorbs" on facebook. in that regard, ML's curiosity perhaps shouldn't be so much about linton's use of "adorable" but rather about how she could come to be so media savvy and adept in using it.

  21. BZ said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 11:31 am

    I too find this usage of "adorable" entirely unremarkable, whereas I just discovered "cute" as a one-word mild retort meaning roughly "you think what you've just said is clever" in some fiction I'm reading.

  22. James Kabala said,

    September 28, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

    Deplorable/adorable is a clever theory, but as everyone else has pointed out, Louise Linton did not invent this usage (and probably Shafer did not even mean to allude to her).

  23. Michael Cargal said,

    October 7, 2017 @ 2:19 am

    this use of adorable is older than one month. I've heard it used on the daily show to mean naive since before Jon Stewart left.

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