Steering through the non-grasping power mongrels

« previous post | next post »

Michael Janda, "Gina Rinehart takes aim at Austalia's 'entitlement' mentality, points to Thatcher", 3/7/2014:

Billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart has attacked Australia's entitlement mentality and called on the nation's leaders to emulate former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. […]

"Our political leaders are fortunate to have a leader they can emulate, a leader who well understood fundamental economic matters, critical for all countries and their standards of living," Mrs Rinehart said.  

"Margaret Thatcher took courageous decisions in the interests of Britain, despite the obvious noisy detractors.  

"Thatcher steered through a lack of courage in her own political party, which had become riddled with lefties or 'non-courageous wets' and self-interested power mongrels, who didn't grasp or didn't want to grasp what was needed for their own country."

Presumably the phrase "power mongrels" represents Ms. Rinehart's attempt to make sense of the obsolete word monger, which the OED glosses as "A merchant, trader, dealer, or trafficker (freq. of a specified commodity); (from the 16th cent.) a person engaged in a petty or disreputable trade or traffic". In current usage, monger survives only  as what the OED calls

… the final element in compounds designating a dealer, trader, or trafficker in a particular commodity.[…] Originally literally a trader, as cheese-, coster-, fish-, flesh-, ironmonger, etc.; but in formations dating from the 16th cent. also in extended use (freq. derogatory), as ceremony-, fashion-, mass-, merit-, news-, pardon-, scandal-monger, etc.

Since monger doesn't really exist any more as a free morpheme, the eggcorn imperative makes it likely that people will substitute a similar-sounding current word that seems to make sense of such compounds. Mongrel is not a perfect choice from the semantic point of view, unless you think that people of mixed ancestry are especially likely to engage in disreputable trade — but it's definitely got the derogatory vibe and the right sort of sound.

And indeed, Ms. Rinehart is not the first "power mongrel" monger. From Jay Charles, The Evolution of the Bible, 2006:

From Jim Hurst, In Pursuit of His Glory, 2004:

And here are a few "war mongrels":

There are "gossip mongrels":

Given the metaphorical associations of dog, "whore mongrels" are especially apt:

But the cited examples are from (apparently) self-published works — you'd think that Australian Resources and Investment magazine, where Ms. Rinehart's article was published, would have the resources to invest in a copy editor.

[Tip of the hat to Robert Pryor.]



  1. Rodger C said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 7:45 am

    Power mongrels have hybrid vigor.

  2. Bobby said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 8:41 am

    >Mongrel is not a perfect choice from the semantic point of view, unless you think that people of mixed ancestry are especially likely to engage in disreputable trade

    In Australian English, and I know this from watching Aussie soaps as a youngster, 'mongrel' is used as a general insult not necessarily with the implication of mixed ancestry.

    This blog suggests that it was also in use to mean 'despicable' in 18th century British English.

  3. AndrewD said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 8:46 am

    "Since monger doesn't really exist any more"
    I think you will find that it still exists in British English, after all I use constructions like "power monger" as do many actvists I interact with.See also costermonger, fishmonger and ironmonger (I will accept that the first and third words are obsolete now)

  4. Deirdre said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 8:57 am

    Yes, agree that 'monger' is still just about current in British English. If you tell me not in American then you would know. But how about 'warmonger'?

  5. Matt said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    Mongrel is not a perfect choice from the semantic point of view, unless you think that people of mixed ancestry are especially likely to engage in disreputable trade — but it's definitely got the derogatory vibe and the right sort of sound.

    In Australian English, "mongrel" can be used as a more general insult, often implying underhandedness and/or deceit but with no specific implication of mixed ancestry, so it's probably a better semantic fit than it appears from the Northern Hemisphere.

  6. Brett said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 9:15 am

    @AndrewD, Deirdre: At least in American English (and nothing you say particularly suggests otherwise for British English) the point is that "monger" doesn't exist any more "as a free morpheme." There are still a few things that one can be a monger of in American English: power, war, fear, fish, and whores being the most prominent examples. However, one could not be a "beef monger"; that is simply nonsensical. It may be that the situation is different in Britain, or it may just be that the list of things "monger" can be used with is longer. ("Ironmonger," for example, does not exist in America, but it's familiar to people who watch a lot of British television shows. On the other hand, I don't even know what a "coster" is, much less a "costermonger.")

  7. Matthew Simmermon-Gomes said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 10:19 am

    I've encountered this eggcorn a few times and, as a person of mixed race, it makes me decidedly uncomfortable. It seems that the speaker or writer is slurring their target by association to racial impurity, similar to how 'the n-word' is used to slur non-blacks by association with negative tropes about blackness.

  8. Bloix said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 12:29 pm

    "Mongrel" has been in the news in the US recently – the far-right celebrity rock guitarist Ted Nugent reluctantly apologized for calling President Obama a "communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel." Although this was pretty clearly a bit of neo-Nazi racial terminology, Nugent denied any racist intent.

  9. richardelguru said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    A coster or costard is an apple, so 'costermonger' is extended from 'apple-seller'.
    They had carts. See the end of this for horrifying details

  10. Roger Lustig said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

    “[In England] a fishmonger is the man who mongs fish; the ironmonger and the warmonger do the same with iron and war. They just mong them.”
    ―George Mikes

  11. GeorgeW said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

    I wouldn't find 'power-monger' exceptional (SoAmE). 'Mogul' is another possible target here, but I would vote for 'monger.'

  12. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

    My initial reaction to the Nugent kerfuffle was that "Subhuman Mongrel" sounded exactly like the name of a heavy metal band whose members were not L1 Anglophones (from say, Brazil to Finland and all points in between there are many bands who pick English names they think will sound tough or menacing or Satanic or otherwise Metal that end up sounding a bit unidiomatic in an ESLish kind of way). So I was hoping it would turn out that a band of that name had opened for Nugent on, let's say, an artistically/financially unsuccessful tour of Scandinavia in the early '90's. (But see and recall that Seger and Nugent came up together in the late '60's Detroit-area music scene.)

    My associations with "mongrel" are primarily, I think, canine – as more or less a synonym of "mutt" but more pejorative, because mutts can be, and perhaps stereotypically are, loveable despite their lowliness of birth. If it's your own pet you would probably not call it a mongrel. In canine society, being pure-bred is associated with social class rather more dramatically than it is in human society, so it's hard for me to pick out the mixed-breed semantics of "mongrel" from the sense of the same dog being likely to be stray/feral/dangerous/untrained/etc. Certainly the eggcornish confusion with "-monger" attested in myl's evidence suggests, I think, a broader vague semantics of uncouthness/villainy when applied to human beings rather than anything specific to mixed parentage.

  13. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

    The website of Australian Resources and Investment has the original article behind a paywall. It seems more likely than not that it has the same eggcorn that the purported block quote from it has, but it would be nice to see it to rule out the possibility that this is a transcription error.

    @GeorgeW: freestanding "mogul" might fit well in context, but since moguls are sort of powerful by definition the combination "power mogul" sounds unidiomatic (presumably because redundant) to my ear, unless it meant e.g. someone who was a big deal in the electric-generation business and was thus a "power mogul" as contrasted with a "steel mogul" or "publishing mogul" or what have you. And that wouldn't fit the context.

    To Matt's point, a parallel instance might be "bastard" as a freestanding insult. In current usage it does not convey any sort of empirical claim that the person being insulted was born out of wedlock or is even stereotypically similar to persons who are. (Whatever negative stereotypes we do currently have about people born out of wedlock don't match up particularly well to the sort of negative traits implied by yelling "you bastard!") That the insult's pejorative edge may be historically rooted in once-strong social stigmas against illegitimacy is neither here nor there in terms of its present semantics, because etymology is not destiny.

  14. GeorgeW said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

    What are non-courageous wets?"

    Also, is non-courageous cowardly or just lacking courage.

  15. BobC said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

    So did Ted Nugent really mean that President Obama is a subhuman monger?

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 4:49 pm is the relevant sense (as used in intra-Tory polemic in the '80's). Mrs. Thatcher would probably have thought that lack of courage was an inherent quality of the wets and thus unnecessary so specify separately, although others might disagree. US synonyms (in intra-GOP polemic) might be "squish" or "RINO."

  17. Tom said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 7:02 pm

    In Peter Carey's 'True History of the Kelly Gang,' "mongrel" is employed throughout as a pejorative. If today's Australians use the word half as much as the characters in that novel, it's easy to see how it could slip in as a substitute for the similar-sounding "monger." Isn't this a normal eggcorn?

  18. Ø said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

    Good heavens! All these years I've thought that a coster was some kind of mollusc. I wonder why.

  19. Bernard said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 11:32 pm

    In Australia the word "mongrel" means a dog of mixed or indeterminate breed.

    When applied to people it is used to mean a person who is vicious or despicable. Ms Rinehart was using the term in the latter sense.

  20. David Morris said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 6:20 am

    Rinehart's own sense of entitlement to her daddy's money led her to extensive legal action against her step-mother, and now against her own children. She was also stridently vocal against the previous government's mineral resources tax.

  21. Michael Watts said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 7:25 am

    What's weird to me about the "whore mongrel" cites is that I'd expect a "whoremonger" to be someone you'd buy a whore from (either literally buy, or just engage), not someone who patronizes whores.

  22. Rodger C said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

    It just hit me, could there be a blend here with "power moguls"?

  23. Rodger C said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

    Oh, I'm late with that. Sorry.

  24. Ben Hemmens said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

    I recall a cartoon by the great Tom Mathews of Dublin. In a fish shop, the boss berates the underling as follows: "Don't just stand there – mong!"

  25. chris said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 7:02 pm

    @Michael Watts: I wonder if at some point "whoremonger" actually did mean pimp, but the meaning shifted?

  26. maidhc said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 8:19 pm

    The super-rich do not have to suffer having their words of wisdom tampered with by mere copy-editors.

  27. Jeff said,

    March 8, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

    OK, our wonderful "Urban Dictionary" doesn't have an entry for "power mongrel", but it does have a blank entry and an empty text box with the invitation "…would you like to define it?" It did, however, have "power monger" (with an expected urban dictionaryish definition). Next entry is "power morning fart" (also defined).
    Maybe Rinehart can jump on over to urban dictionary, add her own definition, and claim modernity with her new hip, trendy usage.

  28. Bloix said,

    March 12, 2014 @ 11:22 pm

    "Mongrel" is the literal translation of the word the Nazis used in their racial laws to describe the children and descendants of Jewish-"Aryan" unions – "Mischling." American neo-Nazi groups routinely use it, e.g.' "Aryan Actor Daniel Craig engaged to mongrel" (from the website of the neo-Nazi group Stormfront, reporting on Craig's engagement to the actress Rachel Weisz, whose father is Jewish).

    It's pretty clear that Nugent was using the word in this sense, since Obama is of mixed parentage.

RSS feed for comments on this post