Proud of insinuating involvement?

« previous post | next post »

From Kenneth P. Vogel, "GOP operatives crash the tea party", Politico 4/14/2010:

As for the bus tours, [Sal] Russo said “they work for us. It’s a great vehicle to go to a lot of places and get a lot of people involved and engaged. I am proud of what we do. Who else goes out there and motivates people and insinuates involvement and activity and actually is making a difference in what is going on?”

It surprised me to see Mr. Russo taking credit for insinuating something.

The relevant OED gloss for insinuate is "To introduce tortuously, sinuously, indirectly, or by devious methods; to introduce by imperceptible degrees or subtle means".

The American Heritage Dictionary has "To introduce or otherwise convey (a thought, for example) gradually and insidiously".

Merriam-Webster online has glosses of

1 a : to introduce (as an idea) gradually or in a subtle, indirect, or covert way <insinuate doubts into a trusting mind> b : to impart or suggest in an artful or indirect way : imply <I resent what you're insinuating>
2 : to introduce (as oneself) by stealthy, smooth, or artful means

Encarta has "to hint at something unpleasant or suggest it indirectly and gradually" or "to introduce yourself gradually and cunningly into a position, especially a place of confidence or favor".

I doubt that Mr. Russo would characterize his actions as "devious", "insidious", or "covert". Instead, he seems to have used insinuate to mean simply initiate. I looked around for other evidence of an insinuate=initiate trend, but didn't find anything much, except for a completely different malapropism insinuate=intimate ("H20 soluble liniment enhances a comfort as well as ease of insinuate activity…").

[The political issue under discussion is the role of Russo, Marsh, and Associates in the Tea Party Express bus tours and various other "Tea Party" branded activities.  And as usual, we need to note that the word-substitution might have been the reporter's (or a spelling-corrector's) rather than the source's.]

[Update — I'm persuaded by Mr. Fnorter's suggestion in the comments that the intended word might have been  instigate — note that there was a flap last year when Maxine Waters apparently said that Castro "insinuated revolution to kick out the wealthy", which seems to be a similar malapropism.]


  1. Mr Fnortner said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 11:09 am

    Perhaps "instigate"?

    [(myl) Or perhaps (if this was a malapropism) the source was a blend of instigate and initiate. If it was a cupertino, as John suggests below, some experimentation might uncover which typographical variants of these two words was most likely responsible — but a few seconds of trial-and-error didn't turn up any plausible candidates, at least with respect to recent editions of MS Word.]

  2. John said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    Surely "initiate." Cupertino?

  3. Tom said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 11:24 am

    My first thought was "instigate", too.

  4. Mark P said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 11:26 am

    I could see a reporter misspelling a word (like Mr Fnortner's instigate) and arriving at something that Word thought should be "insinuate". Or the speaker could simply have reached for a word and brought out the wrong one. That certainly happens often enough in the spoken language. In any event, I doubt he really meant "insinuate."

  5. Kylopod said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

    Insinuation in the defense of liberty is no vice.

  6. Evan said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

    >("H20 soluble liniment enhances a comfort as well as ease of insinuate activity…")

    it seems to me that this might not be a malapropism but actually a delightful play on the second Encarta definition: "to introduce yourself gradually and cunningly into a position, especially a place of confidence or favor".

    That is, the H20 soluble liniment enhances ease of introducing one's self gradually into a position of favor, which strikes me as a major selling point.

    As for Russo's comment, my first thought was that he might have meant 'instigate'.

  7. Lazar said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

    The intended word may have been "instigate", but doesn't "instigate" still have a negative connotation?

  8. Amerloc said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

    Doesn't tie so nicely to the Cupertino effect, but "infiltrate" appeals to me.

  9. Kylopod said,

    April 15, 2010 @ 12:19 am

    I could see someone admitting to having insinuated something, but since insinuation is a form of trickery, we wouldn't expect that person to admit it to the people he hopes to fool, and even admitting it privately suggests a certain cynicism. Typically, people who insinuate things aren't consciously aware of what they're doing.

  10. Private Zydeco said,

    April 15, 2010 @ 3:29 am

    insinuating involvement… as in positing accusations of complicity with nefarious (foreign) agents…subliminally.

  11. Private Zydeco said,

    April 15, 2010 @ 4:32 am

    This carries a resonance with those cases of textual mishap in which an exhortation that a specific backup plan or contingency is only to befall or be permitted to occur as a purported "last resource". In such instances "recourse" or "resort" should be used as the more correct, i.e. canonically acceptable of operative words that they are, but the language circuits are bridged and misspeech ensues instead. Strong connotations with pre/re/con-servation, the greater ubiquity of the one as an article of lay speech, and the easy sibilance and lack of nonvoiced stops in "resource" all magnetize the speaker (or writer) on the side of error. It is particularly interesting that in this example, the two correct words appear to be combined in the one as a portmanteau, or at least the shadow of one.

    Somebody might want to do a quick Google search count of the words "resourse", "resort" and "recourse", wither one goeth to verify or disprove such propositions as the second of the three above regarding the "recourse/resourse" bungle. That is…

    resource = 287,000,000 ghits
    resort = 141,000,000 ghits
    recourse = 21,600,000 ghits


    Not to make the imputation that maintaining something to be a "last resource" is wrong-headed on a conceptual basis, if it is, after all, to be avoided above all else; but while perhaps spontaneously innovative, it conflates the ideas of some literal thing or things being the last of its kind left on earth (e.g "last nerve") and that of action which is to be opted for next when and only when all else fails.

    Also, though it's pretty clear as a malaprop., insinuating involvement definitely evokes political divisiveness and propagandization more than handily, must say….

  12. Graeme said,

    April 15, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

    Journalistic mishearing, I'd guess. I've done interviews by phone that I've then heard broadcast and had trouble discerning each word even though it was my own voice.

  13. Janice Huth Byer said,

    April 16, 2010 @ 12:27 am

    Given that Mr. Russo's statement so clearly aims to make a positive point, I agree with John that "initiate" seems the best fit. "Instigate" and "infiltrate" both suffer the kind of negative connotation that makes "insinuate" feel wrong, so wrong I can't personally believe it's a malapropism. I cast my vote for Cupertino.

RSS feed for comments on this post