Teutonic feminists in the news

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According to Dave McMillion, "Republican W.Va. gubernatorial candidate gets in hot water over 'joke'", Herald Mail 5/12/2011:

Former Berkeley County delegate and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Faircloth said Thursday that a joke he told referring to President Obama as "Sambo" and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a "bimbo" was simply an attempt to "bring a little humor" to the campaign. […]

"There's nothing racist or feminist about me," Faircloth said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.

Poor Mr. Faircloth. Just when you think you've got English derivational morphology figured out, it sneaks up and clobbers you.

Of course, it's likely that he knows perfectly well what feminist means, and was simply afflicted by one of those word-substitution errors that happen to all of us from time to time. Or the substitution might be the work of Mr. McMillion, who was the only witness.

A similar slip of the tongue is presumably what happened to President Obama on May 10, when he observed that

Internationally, we've gone through a Teutonic shift in the Middle East that could have enormous ramifications for years to come.

Neither for Mr. Faircloth nor for Mr. Obama do we have a recording to show that this was a genuine slip of the tongue (or mistaken grasp of the English language) rather than a mis-transcription. But both of these substitutions are plausible ones: feminist and sexist are both adjectives in -ist, whose stems are similar in meaning; teutonic and tectonic are both adjectives in -ic, whose stems are similar in sound and spelling.


  1. Lazar said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 9:04 am

    Surely a Teutonic shift must be accompanied by Wagner.

    [(myl) I suppose that the Tristan Chord offers several alternative pessimistic metaphors for the current situation: painfully-extended resolution of the dissonance created by the transition from one harmonic regime to another; doorway to the complete dissolution of tonal structure; etc. Here's hoping things turn out better this time.]

  2. James Fraleigh said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 9:14 am

    I used to execute Teutonic shifts all the time while playing Age of Kings back in the day. Get the knights in position, maybe some covering fire from the cannon towers, then into battle.

    Was Obama speaking off the cuff or from a script? Maybe TelePrompTers have the same auto-correct issues as iPhones.

    [(myl) The transcript at whitehouse.gov suggests that he was speaking off-the-cuff.]

  3. parse said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 9:30 am

    Regarding his use of the word "Sambo," Faircloth said perhaps he should have told the joke differently.

    Is this even possible? What's a humorous slogan for the team of Obama, Stallone and Pelosi that avoids offensive language?

  4. Joseph said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 10:51 am

    One is reminded of George Bush Sr.'s statement:

    "I hope I stand for anti-bigotry, anti-Semitism, anti-racism. This is what drives me."

  5. m0000 said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 1:26 pm


    Maybe there were teutonic feminists? :)

  6. TS said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    "referring to President Obama as "Sambo" and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a "bimbo" was simply an attempt to "bring a little humor" to the campaign."

    Coincidentally, in German the word "Bimbo" has the same meaning as "Sambo" in English. Can lead to interesting misunderstandings of the Teutonic kind.

  7. Rodger C said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    A Teutonic shift poses a Grimm prospect.

  8. Janice Byer said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

    Humph. I'm willing to credit Faircloth with an instinct for honest utterance and can't blame him for accepting the kindness of strangers, who want to believe he meant the opposite.

    The difference between Faircloth's alleged mistake and Obama's real one is the latter can't be true

  9. Jon Weinberg said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

    @parse — How about "Vote for the President, the House Minority Leader, and a really bad actor who endorsed McCain"?

  10. Mo said,

    May 15, 2011 @ 12:48 am

    I wonder why people are so fascinated by the verbal blunders of political figures. Perhaps linguistic pedantry is a convenient way to criticize one's opponents without going to the trouble of finding a legitimate argument. It would be interesting to know whether these sort of attitudes are as common in societies with less linguistic purism.

  11. hector said,

    May 15, 2011 @ 1:43 am

    When I hear "Teutonic shift," the first thing that comes to mind is a BMW, and if one was "gone through" in the Middle East, it was probably one of those damn sandstorms that ruined it.

  12. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 15, 2011 @ 4:48 am

    "Perhaps linguistic pedantry is a convenient way to criticize one's opponents without going to the trouble of finding a legitimate argument."

    Indeed. It's hard to imagine what a legitimate argument against Mr. Faircloth could be.

  13. JimG said,

    May 15, 2011 @ 8:20 am

    Sambo? Bimbo? Dumbo!

  14. Ray Dillinger said,

    May 15, 2011 @ 11:03 am

    I rather thought that the shift Obama referred to was "Titanic" rather than "Tectonic." Of course we'll probably never know since he misspoke and said "Teutonic" instead.

  15. Jason said,

    May 16, 2011 @ 10:51 am

    Maybe he was referring to the amount of time required for a process like the High Germanic consonant shift to work itself out and relating that to how long we've been over there.

  16. KevinM said,

    May 16, 2011 @ 11:32 am

    I think Angela Merkel wears a Teutonic shift around the house.

  17. KeithB said,

    May 16, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    I believe the shift is "tectonic."

  18. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 16, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

    I believe the shift is "tectonic."

    Of course.

    But that's actually pretty interesting that it's in common usage, at least in the more educated class, because plate tectonics is only a (relatively) recently accepted scientific theory…the 60s. I suppose that it's indicative of how much it was a popular paradigm shift that this technical term would enter common language as idiom so quickly.

  19. R. said,

    May 18, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    feminist and sexist are both adjectives in -ist

    I figured he was going for misogynist instead, had trouble recalling it, and pulled another word with a "woman" morpheme out of the bag.

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