Projectile rising?

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Today at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall reprises a phrase that caught my attention when he first used it on Tuesday ("TPMtv: Terrymania!"): "[Clinton campaign chair] Terry McAuliffe has managed to turn projectile nonsense into something approaching the sublime".

I interpret "projectile nonsense" by analogy to "projectile vomiting": copious nonsense spewed forcefully over a significant area.

When I've often heard or read the phrase "projectile vomiting", I've always given it the obvious compositional meaning of vomiting that is projected or propelled through space. But a quick check on the web suggests that this is a medical term of art with some less obvious aspects. According to a lesson on "Physiology of Vomiting" at Colorado State, "Vomition occasionally occurs abruptly and in the absence of premonitory signs – this situation is often referred to as projectile vomiting." And a page on "How to Understand Projectile Vomiting" at eHow says that "projectile vomiting is sudden and particularly forceful vomiting that often occurs without much warning." (On the other hand, the gloss in the American Heritage Medical Dictionary is just "Expulsion of the contents of the stomach with great force.")

Should I should interpret Josh as suggesting that McAuliffe's projection of (in Josh's view) vomitous nonsense was not only forceful, but also abrupt and lacking in premonitory signs? I don't think so, since TPM has been chronicling McAuliffe in increasingly critical terms for a while, and the behavior collected in TPMtv's latest anthology is both repeated and extended in time.

In any event, the extension to "projectile nonsense" is new to me. Searching on the web, I did find at least one earlier use, from a source in 2003 that Josh Marshall is unlikely to have read (Shawn Nottage, "Hollywood is hypocritical in criticism of U.S.", 10/20/2003):

I could go on for days and most people would be shocked at some of the other projectile nonsense that comes out of the mouths of many prominent Americans. It is best for these people to stick to what they know best: acting, driving around Mercedes and Hummers, heating their multi-million dollar mansions with natural gasses and being blatant hypocrites.

Nor could I find many other plausible examples of extended use of projectile in phrases like "projectile foolishness" or "projectile silliness". There are a few examples of "projectile bullshit", but again, the sources are not prominent ones. So pending further evidence, I conclude that this is probably an independent development.

Roughly 200 copies of Josh's "projectile nonsense" seem to have sprung up on the web already. Given the popularity of TPM, will a thousand projectiles bloom, attaching to other forms of metaphorical vomit, and turning projectile into a general-purpose intensifier for negatively-associated referents? Stay tuned for updates.


  1. Rubrick said,

    May 15, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

    It's probably just another subfield of Abstract Nonsense.

  2. Ellen K. said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 12:19 am

    I haven't watched to see how well this fits, but my first thought was "projectile nonsense" means nonsense about projections (as in the kind of projections that are a form of prediction).

  3. John Laviolette said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 1:43 am

    Once again, I suggest alt.religion.kibology, not necessarily as a prominent source, but at least a source of some pretty interesting variants for "projectile X". Most of these appear to be surreal fake medical conditions, rather than metaphors created by comparison to "projectile vomiting". They include: "projectile glaucoma" (Nov 6, 1998,) "projectile leprosy" (Dec 2, 1998 and Feb 24, 1999,) "projectile spinal bifida" (Feb 24, 1999,) "astral projectile vomiting" (Dec 21, 1998,) "projectile oil loss" (Jul 21, 1999,) "projectile diarrhea" (Jan 26, 2001,) "projectile bleeding" (Sep 11, 2002.)

  4. Mark Liberman said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 6:32 am

    Once again, I suggest alt.religion.kibology:

    I'm disappointed in Google, which apparently doesn't index usenet archives in its basic searches. And I'm disappointed in myself for not remembering this. I've missed things that way before.

    The examples that John Laviolette cites, though limited to the "medical condition" domain, seem to be clear examples of projectile as a generic modifier and perhaps an intensifier.

    Now, if we find that Josh Marshall posted on a.r.k. or some nearby newsgroup …

  5. William Ockham said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 11:00 am

    I don't understand why you say this:

    Should I should interpret Josh as suggesting that McAuliffe's projection of (in Josh's view) vomitous nonsense was not only forceful, but also abrupt and lacking in premonitory signs? I don't think so…

    This is, in my understanding, exactly what Josh is saying. The sensation I get from listening to McAuliffe is remarkably like the one I have when one of my sons has a migraine (which occasionally results in projectile vomiting). Until the causal condition passes, I live in a constant state of dread that, at any moment, the sufferer will open his mouth and uncontrollably spew. Until the primary campaign passes, McAuliffe is at risk for projectile nonsense.

  6. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 11:07 am

    I think you're overlooking a more obvious interpretation. In political campaigns, the most common metaphorical projectile throwing is mudslinging. In this case, I would interpret "projectile nonsense" as "unfounded mudslinging" or just simply "ridiculous mudslinging," like attacking Barack because he went to Rev. Wright's church.

    The true mudslinging artist can tarnish someone's reputation without obviously directly saying anything negative about that person.

  7. Jon F said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    My touchstone reference for the phrase "projectile vomiting" is descriptions of Bill the Cat in the comic strip "Bloom County". It was always my understanding that it meant forceful expulsion, because otherwise how would the vomitus travel the necessary distance to land on Opus and Steve Dallas (an outcome required by the comedy)?

  8. Josh Millard said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

    The examples that John Laviolette cites, though limited to the "medical condition" domain, seem to be clear examples of projectile as a generic modifier and perhaps an intensifier.

    Of course, those examples coming from a.r.k are thus hopelessly tainted — intentional, precocious and ironic mis-generalization fits so well in the kibological mode that it's hard for me to read e.g. "projectile glaucoma" as anything but an intentionally inapt generalization of projecile vomiting. That is, the average kibologist isn't going to use it as a general intensifier so much as a knowingly bad candidate for use as a general intensifier.

    Perhaps that's splitting a hair too fine, but I think citing a.r.k to legitimize a usage is too like citing a Chuck E. Cheese ballpit to legitimize leaping bodily at the ground with abandon.

  9. John Laviolette said,

    May 18, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

    @Josh Millard,

    Things may be even more complex than either you or I have imagined. For example, the phrase "projectile leprosy" was from David Pacheco, who also has written some humorous material for McSweeney's. I thought I would verify whether he's used the expression outside of a.r.k., so I did a Google search for the exact phrase … and Google found 1,250 results. The number one result is a list of excuses for a day off, attributed to The Washington Post (April 14, 1994.) Most of the other references seem to be quotes from that article, or variants inspired by it.

    The "projectile glaucoma" reference occurred in a discussion about which states voted for medical marijuana measures, so it may be a simple case of replacing "leprosy" with a condition associated with marijuana treatments.

    However, the Chuck E. Cheese analogy is great. The kibologists will definitely want to hear about that. I predict it will become a new meme.

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