Saying the quiet part loud

« previous post | next post »

Sam Dorman, "AOC says Trump 'relished' rally chant about Omar, doesn't want to be president anymore", Fox News 7/20/2019:

"Once you start telling American citizens to 'go back to your own countries,' this tells you that this President's policies are not about immigration, it's about ethnicity and racism," Ocasio-Cortez went on to applause from the town hall crowd. "And his biggest mistake is that he said the quiet part loud. That was his biggest mistake because we know that he's been thinking this the entire time."

I have the impression that I've been seeing the cited phrase more often over the past couple of years.

Its meaning is made clear in this example from the NYT (Chris Hayes, "Chris Hayes: What ‘Law and Order’ Means to Trump", 3/17/2018:

Donald Trump is not subtle. While normal political language functions through implication and indirection, Mr. Trump luxuriates in saying the quiet part loud. But in doing so, Mr. Trump exposes what drives the politics of the movement he commands.

A few other examples:

[link] Trump Said the Quiet Part Loud About John Brennan

[link] The Epstein modus operandi described both in court filings and in journalistic accounts has much in common with allegations about other rich, famous, and powerful men who have been accused of treating people as mere instruments of their own desires. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” the president, Epstein’s sometime associate, infamously bragged, once again saying, with stunning efficiency, the quiet part loud.

[link] Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the quiet part loud again on Wednesday, describing Democrats’ attempt to pass a bill that makes Election Day a federal holiday as a “power grab.”

[link] Buying the government’s explanation for the census change became much less tenable last week. By a fortuitous chain of circumstances, previously concealed computer drives exposed the now-deceased architect of the Census citizenship question saying the quiet part loud: adding a citizenship question, he wrote, “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting. That’s smoking-gun proof that the government’s legal justification for the citizenship question is nonsense.

This seems like the sort of phrase that might have its origins in the King James Bible or a Shakespeare play. But as far as I can tell, it originates in episode 18 of season six of The Simpsons, "A Star is Burns", which first aired on March 5, 1995:

[The jury members are casting their votes for grand prize at the Springfield Film Festival. Jay Sherman is dismayed that Mr. Burns' movie is drawing votes.]
Jay: How can you vote for Burns' movie?
Krusty: Let's just say it moved me… TO A BIGGER HOUSE!! Oops, I said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet.


  1. F said,

    July 21, 2019 @ 4:37 pm

    Huh, I always thought the idiom was "say the quiet [i.e. unsaid] part out loud"

  2. David Morris said,

    July 21, 2019 @ 5:04 pm gives Krusty as an example.

  3. Rachael said,

    July 21, 2019 @ 5:53 pm

    I've never heard the expression before. "Say X loud" doesn't even sound grammatical in my dialect – it would have to be "out loud", "aloud" or "loudly'.

    [(myl) See "Amid this vague uncertainty, who walks safe?", 2/23/2007]

  4. Ken said,

    July 21, 2019 @ 8:29 pm

    It is sometimes associated with the first Lee Atwater quote here. Mr. Atwater didn't use "quiet part", but was talking about a related strategy.

  5. Robert said,

    July 21, 2019 @ 9:50 pm

    Let's not forget the James Brown song, "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud"

  6. jfruh said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 1:26 am

    I am 100% certain the Simpsons joke is the origin of this. That's why it's "say the quiet part loud" and not the more idiomatic "out loud" — because the entire original bit is that Krusty says "Oops, I said the quiet part loud and loud part quiet," i.e. he was supposed to say "into a new house" as an aside.

  7. Rob Grayson said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 3:53 am

    Typo alert: "It's meaning is made clear…" => "Its meaning is made clear…"

  8. Ursa Major said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 6:18 am

    "This seems like the sort of phrase that might have its origins in the King James Bible or a Shakespeare play."

    The structure of 'saying the quiet part loud' seems to be a perfect match of one of my favourite Shakespearean lines, Macbeth's 'making the green one red'.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 6:45 am

    As opposed to making the green one redly ?!

  10. Ray said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 7:04 am

    how funny is this. aoc reassuring the crowd that, unlike trump, she's careful to say the quiet part quiet. and the crowd cheers!

  11. Arvid said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 8:06 am

    I think the assumption is that @AOC doesn't have a quiet part to say.

  12. Cervantes said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 10:14 am

    Here's a thorough discussion. She also traces it to Krusty.

  13. chris said,

    July 22, 2019 @ 7:43 pm

    Following up on Ken's comment above, in some USA liberal political discussions Trump's unexpected (to many politics experts) success in the Republican primary is credited to his willingness to throw Atwater's playbook out the window and say loud the parts that Atwater and similar professionals would advise should be kept quiet.

    Generally on the theory that unlike political professionals, the Republican *base* doesn't want Lee Atwater telling them what they can and can't admit about their policy preferences and agenda.

    I think this is what Chris Hayes is getting at in the part you quote.

    ISTM pretty likely that AOC either subscribes to this view, or at the very least is aware of it.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2019 @ 9:21 am

    Further to chris' point, the original Krusty usage assumes the speaker was subjectively trying to be a dissembling hypocrite but was incompetent at doing so and slipped up. That's consistent with the claim that the President "made a mistake" but not consistent with the rival theory that the he (or any other "outsider" figure) is not slipping up at all but making a deliberate rhetorical choice to say controversy-causing things other politicians won't in order to convey the impression that he is "telling it like it is" while his more establishment-friendly rivals are, as noted above, dissembling hypocrites, even if so competent at that role that they remember not to say the quiet part loud. Maybe a way of harmonizing these two is to assume that the "said the quiet part loud" criticism is driven the notion that the critic him- or herself would not, in the same circumstances, have for whatever reasons (could be political tactics, could just be a commitment to civility or what have you) have said that part loud. But that may just reflect a failure of imagination on the part of the critic, i.e. an inability to grasp why other people behave differently than they imagine they would behave in the same situation.

    Perhaps relatedly, I am puzzled by the example criticizing Senator McConnell, because claiming that some proposal your political rivals are backing is a "power grab" on their part seems exactly like the sort of thing you would say loud rather than quiet — it conveys in context something like "the other party is pushing this change solely for their own perceived tactical advantage and you should discount their attempts to portray it as a neutral good-government reform accordingly." What was McConnell supposed to be instead saying loud while keeping the "power grab" accusation quiet? NB that this doesn't mean this or any other "power grab" accusation is necessarily accurate or fair, just that I see no reason why you would have expected it to be advance quietly rather than loudly.

  15. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 23, 2019 @ 11:25 am

    J. W. Brewer: The idea behind the "power grab" comment is that the proposal to make Election Day a federal holiday is meant to improve voter turnout, and that by calling that a "power grab" McConnell is implicitly admitting that increased turnout would help his opponents and thus that he opposes the proposed holiday because he wants to make voting hard for some people.

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2019 @ 12:29 pm

    Jerry Friedman: This is not electoral-strategy blog, but the GOP often (not invariably, and in some locales including where I live Democrats do too) overtly opposes other reforms that are allegedly intended to make voting easier and thus increase turnout by taking the position that that's not the only desirable thing in the world and that there are trade-offs involved. So it's not a diabolical secret strategy that can't be said out loud. It's only an embarrassing-to-say-out-loud concession in a context where no one can believe that anyone could possibly be against increasing turnout by all means necessary regardless of other concerns.

    (Separately, no one needs the whole day off from work to vote, so another thing that's going on is the desire to get ones partisan volunteers the whole day off from work, ideally with pay, so that they can help electioneer all day instead. That may under a given set of conditions be viewed as more advantageous by one faction than its rival.)

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 23, 2019 @ 1:10 pm

    J. W. Brewer: To continue with the hijack, McConnell wasn't saying that high turnout wasn't the only desirable thing in the world. He was saying that it's undesirable because it would give the Democrats more power. Or I think that's the blogger's implied argument. What "should" have been the loud part is the cost of the holiday.

    Thanks for mentioning the electioneering aspect, which I hadn't thought of.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2019 @ 1:28 pm

    Jerry Friedman, I guess I think there's a subtle but meaningful nuance of difference between saying "I'm against this because it will create electoral benefits for my opponents" (say that part quiet?) and saying "my opponents are in favor of this only because they hope to reap electoral benefits from it, not because they think it's desirable in the abstract for its own sake" (say that part loud?) but they overlap sufficiently they may be difficult to tease apart in a given instance.

    What would be best, of course, would be some high-minded proposed reform of electoral procedure where you could say loud "I support this as the right thing to do even if it ends up helping my opponents at the next election" when the quiet part would be "actually my own analysis suggests that contrary to widespread popular belief this reform is likely to benefit my own side on net at the next election."

  19. Ray said,

    July 24, 2019 @ 6:13 pm

    @Arvid "I think the assumption is that @AOC doesn't have a quiet part to say" is a perfect example of hearing the quiet part quiet, as members of AOC's cheering crowd heard her (ie, "I think MY assumption is that @AOC doesn't have a quiet part to say").

    jus' sayin'. :-)

RSS feed for comments on this post