K-pop stans troll Trump

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You've probably read about how k-pop stans pranked the Trump campaign — apparently several hundred thousand of them signed up for tickets to Saturday's Tulsa rally, creating embarrassingly over-optimistic attendance predictions. You may even have seen one of the celebratory tiktok videos:

But this is Language Log, not political meme log, so you can follow up the sociopolitical thread on your own: "TikTok Teens and K-Pop Stans Say They Sank Trump Rally", NYT 6/21/2020; "Did TikTokers and K-pop fans foil Trump’s Tulsa rally? It’s complicated", WaPo 6/21/2020; "K-pop fans emerge as a powerful force in US protests", BBC News 6/11/2020; "How K-pop fans became celebrated online vigilantes", Technology Review 6/5/2020; "The K-Pop Stans Are Radicalizing", The Cut 6/4/2020; etc.

Instead our topic today is the origin of the term stan. M-W glosses the noun as "an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan", and the verb as "to exhibit fandom to an extreme or excessive degree : to be an extremely devoted and enthusiastic fan of someone or something".

The origin is Eminem's 2000 song, in which he reads (presumably fictional) letters from an obsessed fan named Stan:

Update — John Berenberg writes:

The very same day that Language Log ran the post "K-pop stans troll Trump" my Daily Humor email from The New Yorker led off with a cartoon whose caption includes "K-pop stans". Some kind of shared editorial board?

And see Sarah Cooper lip-syncing the effect of the flood of fake sign-ups:


  1. Richard Hershberger said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 9:16 am

    "an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan"

    This is pretty much the original sense of "fan" and its contemporary "crank." Both arose as baseball terms in the 1880s, naming that guy who is just a little bit too much into the game. There are humorous accounts of baseball men being accosted by a fan or a crank in full bore mode, and struggling to make their escape. This is more transparent with "crank," but if (as is likely, though there are other candidates) "fan" came from "fanatic," that is pretty clear as well. Both were soon softened to mean the more reasonably enthusiastic. "Crank" fell out of use in the 20th century, while "fan" further softened yet further so that it can mean even a casual follower.

  2. Sinead Halsey said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 10:35 am

    Something that always seemed odd to me is there seemed to be a significant lag between the song itself (which was a huge hit) and the widespread use of the term 'stan', especially as a self-identification, which I think was around 2006 at the earliest (from the earliest relevant entries on Urban Dictionary – the OED's first citation that seems really consonant with the modern use is 2013)

  3. Greg said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 10:35 am

    @Richard Hershberger: it might be fairer to say that crank fell out of use as a baseball term as it's still alive and well in mathematical and physical circles. There it refers to a specific kind of fanatic who believes (typically, but not necessarily wrongly) they have a proof of something such as the Goldbach conjecture or a way to easily/quickly determine prime factorisation of arbitrarily large numbers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crank_(person) summarises nicely)

  4. cameron said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 10:48 am

    I think, in 19th century baseball terminology, "fans" and "cranks" were both subspecies of the more neutral "rooters".

  5. Richard Hershberger said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 11:02 am

    @Greg: I think, rather, that the old baseball usage started out as a specific example of the more general usage you describe. It wasn't a new word. But in the baseball context it softened to mean merely a regular attendee at ballgames, before disappearing as redundant with "fan."

    @cameron: "Rooters" came a little later, and was preceded by the verbal form "root." Both came into prominence in 1889, when "rooting" was jocularly held to have mystical powers to help the team, even when the rooting occurred at a different location entirely. I take this as an effort by owners and newspapers to drum up interest. This clearly began in the New York metropolis, but spread pretty quickly. "Crank" and "fan" were a little older. The distinction was geographical. "Crank" was initially favored by the eastern sporting press, and "fan" by the western. I suspect, but can't prove, that the eventual triumph of "fan" might be tied to The Sporting News, out of St. Louis, in the 20th century winning out over The Sporting Life, out of Philadelphia, as the paper of record for baseball. But in any case, both "crank" and "fan" were more common terms than "rooter," which took on a sense of a semi-organized band of "rooters" attending games.

  6. Brett said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 12:12 pm

    @Sinead Halsey: When I wanted to know where the term come from, I asked my teenaged daughter, and she immediately pointed me to the Eminem song. That surprised me, for a couple of reasons. First, there seems to have been, as you suggest, quite a time lag between the song and the rise of the slang term. Second, the song is significantly older than my daughter herself, and would not have expected her to be familiar with the origin of a slang term that derived from something that old.

  7. Yorick Wilks said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 12:29 pm

    I would doubt " crank" is originally a baseball term without some evidence. It was a widely used term in Brit Eng to mean a person with ( to the speaker) odd social, political or scientific views. Until the 1980s there was a popular chain if vegetarian restaurants called ( self- mockingly" CRANKS in London.

  8. Peter Vanderwaart said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 12:33 pm

    In a yacht design controversy during the 1880s, (sloops vs cutters), one side was dubbed "Cutter Cranks". See Traditions & Memories of American Yachting by William P. Stephens, International Marine Publishing Co.

  9. Richard Hershberger said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 1:15 pm

    @Yorick Wilks: Upon review, I worded my first comment poorly. I did not mean to claim that the word arose in baseball, but that baseball adapted an existing word, and in the baseball context it took a distinct course before disappearing.

  10. Nicole Holliday said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 1:34 pm

    As with many lexical items, there was lag between when the Eminem song came out and when most *white* people started using “stan”, but AAE speakers used it that way much earlier. Just because it took a while for linguists (who are demographically not likely to be on the edge of innovation), doesn’t mean it wasn’t always there.

    Also, the teens in the video are all dancing to Macarena off-beat and it fills me with rage!

  11. David Marjanović said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 2:43 pm

    The term "crank" pejoratively labels someone who holds extremely unorthodox views on a subject and is often very vocal about these opinions. Synonyms include kook, contrarian, nut and crackpot — the "crackpot" variant has led to the coining of the term "psychoceramics" as the name for the study of such people.[2] Cranks who believe a number of different nutty things all at once are said to suffer from crank magnetism.

    – first paragraph of the RationalWiki article on crank, illustrated with a photo of Alex Jones at a 9-11 truther rally. I don't agree that contrarian belongs in there at all, though.

    are all dancing to Macarena off-beat

    Yeah, it's weird. I guess I'm officially old now.

  12. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 22, 2020 @ 4:20 pm

    Today we distinguish mere fans from true baseball nerds who obsess about minutiae of lore and statistics. One assumes both personality types existed in the 1880s; would they also have made the same sort of terminological distinction?

  13. Alison said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 12:32 am

    I think Nicole is correct about how long it took for stan to break into the white mainstream. Many websites point to a 2001 Nas track called Ether as the first recorded usage of the term, but presumably people were using it as slang before that track was made. It's definitely been a common term in fandom and celebrity gossip circles since the mid-2000s.

  14. David Morris said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 3:31 am

    In Australia, rooters are involved in a completely different activity, and it always gives us (or at least me) a small giggle when I read about USAns 'rooting loudly', for example.

  15. David Morris said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 4:03 am

    I was aware of the song but had never heard it in full. The title character of the song is not just a fan, but (spoiler alert) descends into psychosis, murder and suicide. I hope very few 'stan's (indeed none at all) are like that.

    I recently stumbled across the Korean word 사생 (saeseang) or 사생팬 (saesang paen), which has been coined to describe "an obsessive fan who stalks, or engages in other behaviour constituting an invasion of the privacy of a Korean idol or other public figure" (Wikipedia).

  16. Andrew Usher said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 7:11 am

    If this story is what really happened, the kindest word for these people is 'trolls', the the kindest thing one could decently say to them is 'get a life'. I have never had anything but contempt for those intentionally disrupting lawful activity.

    As to the far less important linguistic issue, it would seem that if the term really has a long history, one should consider the possiblity that the Eminem song is not the origin but appropriated an existing term, a fairly obvious thing to do as 'stan' can be made someone's name.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 7:51 am

    Well, Andrew, then there you and I must differ, because I have considerable respect for those intentionally disrupting lawful activity when that activity is (for example) fox hunting, or any analogous activity that should be seen for what it is : a barbaric hang-over from a less enlightened past that should have been declared illegal a century or more ago. I am forced to assume that, had you lived at a time when beating a slave to death was a lawful punishment, you would have had nothing but contempt for anyone seeking to interfere.

  18. Dave said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 11:22 am

    To return a bit to linguistic themes, I would just be happy if we had most disruptions at a speech act (pixel act?) level, instead of descending to the sticks and stones of the last century.

  19. David Marjanović said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 1:12 pm

    If this story is what really happened, the kindest word for these people is 'trolls', the the kindest thing one could decently say to them is 'get a life'. I have never had anything but contempt for those intentionally disrupting lawful activity.

    No disruption has occurred, except of Team Trump's expectations of how many people would attend the rally (…and I must say they're extremely good at wishful thinking if they really ever believed a million people was going to show up).

    The number of tickets that was given out was, strangely enough, unlimited. Everybody who really wanted to attend got a ticket, nobody was prevented from getting a ticket, entering the arena or getting a seat there. Indeed, an overflow area where Trump had expected to briefly address tens of thousands of people before the rally, but where only 25 people had come, was deconstructed right when the rally began.

  20. David Marjanović said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 1:13 pm

    I wonder when stan was verbed, as in we stan a queen "we really like what that woman said".

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 3:30 pm

    In what was no doubt a recency-illusion problem, I only became aware of this sense of "stan" (as both noun and verb) within the last year or so. I figured out what it meant from context w/o knowing the Eminem etymology which didn't seem incongruent when I learned about it but didn't add much value either. It has not entered my active lexicon. I haven't paid attention to it enough to have a good sense of how the people who do actively use it break down between: a) folks significantly younger than me; b) folks closer to my age more motivated than me (for whatever reasons) to consciously adopt new lexemes from The Young People; or c) folks whose social networks are such that they end up doing b w/o even feeling any self-consciousness about it.

  22. Josh R said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 7:45 pm

    How weird the vagaries of linguistics are (and how fascinating). Not knowing of the Eminem song, and always seen it in lower case, I assumed it was some take on middle Asian xx-stan countries. As in, "k-pop stan" being who identifies in k-pop fandom so completely as to feel like a unique culture (cf. Red Sox Nation). I figured it probably started in some fandom representing a particular group, and then spread from there and became pluralized.

    But, reference to a hip-hop song in Black Twitter -> spread to young White Twitter sounds MUCH more plausible. I hear anecdotally that a lot of recent slang goes Black Twitter -> LBGT Twitter -> young White Twitter ("woke" being perhaps the exemplar). I don't know if that's true, but definitely sounds like there's an opportunity for research in that area.

  23. Lauren Commons said,

    June 23, 2020 @ 8:19 pm

    Again, Language Log, thank you for bringing light to a dark inexplicable corner of the universe.

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    June 24, 2020 @ 7:02 am

    Philip Taylor:
    Your analogy of a slave beaten to death is over the top and rhetorical, and as slavery itself is gone forever from the civilised world, entirely moot. The other example of fox-hunting is closer to what I was thinking about as 'lawful activity'; I would argue that with such issues it is far better to try to get the law changed through normal means, as you actually did in that case.

    Also, if David Marjanovic is right that no one was denied a ticket, that is no defence (ethically, though it would be legally) as then there is no constructive point to the 'protest', just an inappropriate political prank by those incapable of coming up with anything better. It is not going to change any sane mind _against_ Trump.

    Last I restate my question on 'stan': how are we absolutely sure the term did not exist before the song? It seems an unwarranted assumption from the data presented here, which is all I know of the subject.

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 24, 2020 @ 11:29 am

    Just to contribute my own vague initial guess at a folk etymology before I had had the Eminem theory brought to my attention: Perhaps because I had seen the verbal use in context like "we stan for X," I took it to be a clipped version (maybe eye-dialect for some dialect pronunciation in which the final consonant cluster gets reduced) of "stand", with "stand for" or "stand up for" being obvious ways of conveying the notion "support enthusiastically." Apparently inaccurate here (esp if the noun version preceded the verb version, which is an empirical question I have no insight into), but probably not a lot worse than some guesswork proposed etymologies out there in published work by tenured scholars …

  26. Stephen said,

    June 24, 2020 @ 11:53 am

    @David Morris (June 23, 2020 @ 3:31 am)

    I heard a Tony Hawks
    joke about him being in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.

    When asked why he was there he said "I'm rooting for Team GB" and the response was,
    "Gee, I didn't even know that was an Olympic sport".

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    June 24, 2020 @ 12:19 pm

    It took me a moment or two to catch on, Stephen, but having done so, I like it. But as soon as I thought about it, I found myself focussing on the phrase "Team GB". Why Team "GB", I found myself wondering — why not "Team UK" ? Are the Northern Irish not allowed to represent the United Kingdom in international competition ?

  28. David Marjanović said,

    June 24, 2020 @ 3:53 pm

    It is not going to change any sane mind _against_ Trump.

    "Ma'am, that's not enough. I need a majority."
    – Adlai Stevenson

    More seriously, though, it is a beautiful illustration of how extremely good Trump is at wishful thinking, and either at spreading this ability to those around him or at making them pretend to share it for fear of falling out of his good graces. Anybody that disconnected from reality is unfit for any office with anywhere near as much responsibility as the presidency of the US.

  29. Andrew Usher said,

    June 25, 2020 @ 7:32 am

    Well, I think you demonstrate my point, as no doubt you already had the same belief about Trump before reading about this event. Saying that he has an unusually high capacity for wishful thinking (which is all too common among people in general) seems to require believing that he is being honest when speaking optimistically, which I have my doubt about.

  30. Thomas Rees said,

    June 25, 2020 @ 10:04 pm

    Philip Taylor:
    According to the Team GB website, "Team GB is the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic Team". Furthermore, "the British Olympic Association (BOA) is the National Olympic Committee (NOC) for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The BOA is responsible for the participation in the Olympic Games of athletes from GB and NI, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and UK Overseas Territories which do not have their own National Olympic Committee."
    So "Team UK" wouldn't be accurate either. I believe Northern Irish athletes are allowed to represent Ireland or Team GB. Now, about that backstop…

  31. Philip Taylor said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 2:33 am

    Oh well, if the team can include members from "UK Overseas Territories which do not have their own National Olympic Committee", it should clearly be called "Team BE" — "Team British Empire" !

  32. David Marjanović said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 7:28 am

    Saying that he has an unusually high capacity for wishful thinking (which is all too common among people in general) seems to require believing that he is being honest when speaking optimistically, which I have my doubt about.

    Actually, yes. Tony Schwartz, who wrote TRUMP – The Art of the Deal, has said on several occasions that Trump is unusually good at making himself believe that whatever he says is true, or is almost true, or at least ought to be true. I find that explains a lot.

    And so, my view is that Trump is first intellectually dishonest with himself, because he's a narcissist who has never quite understood there's a reality outside his skull, and then he honestly reports his beliefs. And then, as he finds something else sounds even better, he changes his mind, sometimes before the sentence is over. Technically, I don't think he lies a lot, except – with amazing success – to himself.

  33. NulledApp said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 2:44 pm

    Today, we distinguish mere fans from true baseball nerds who obsess about minutiae of lore and statistics. One assumes both personality types existed in the 1880s; would they also have made the same sort of terminological distinction???

  34. Stephen said,

    June 26, 2020 @ 3:10 pm

    @Philip Taylor @Thomas Rees

    Team GB sounds pretty odd to me as well. I had a vague recollection that there was some reason behind it and Thomas has kindly supplied it.

    In some (all?) sports where the four nations of the UK [1] compete separately, people from the Channel Islands & the IoM (or with a claim on those places) can simply choose which country to represent, e.g.

    1. Yes I know that it is more complex than that and that in some sports Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland [2] compete separately and in some they compete as a united team.

    2. I also know that the official name in English is just Ireland, but that is, IMO, somewhat confusing, especially when differentiating between the northern & southern entities that are on the island.

  35. Philip Taylor said,

    June 27, 2020 @ 3:59 am

    It seems to me as an outsider (i.e., one who does not have the good fortune to be a native of the Emerald Isle) that the choice of the (English) name "Ireland" for what I know as "Éire" is basically a political statement, and one with which I have considerable sympathy — it says (to me, at least) "there is only one Ireland — the fact that the so-called 'six counties' are at the present time treated as a separate entity is a highly regrettable state of affairs, and one which we are determined will, before too long, cease to be the case".

  36. Andrew Usher said,

    June 27, 2020 @ 7:44 am

    Yes, and that political statement has caused enough trouble that one should probably refrain from making it unintentionally! Of course everyone says 'Ireland' normally, but we should keep the full form in English 'Republic of Ireland' distinguishing it from the geographical designation that no one disputes.

    Odd as it may be, it is 'Team GB' and I assume that's what they say out loud.

    David Marjanovic:
    That may be. As is always said, the most successful at deceiving others are also most successful at deceiving themselves first. There is no other reason self-deception should exist, as is very clearly does with Trump perhaps being an extreme (and extremely visible) example. And there's no doubt he has been very successful; becoming President when no one would have thought him a possible or even sane candidate being now the most striking example.

    If I seem sensitive to those attacking Trump, it's not because I like to defend him but because I see that a substitute for attacking America in general; besides which the belief that he is the perfect embodiment of American values is itself absurd.

  37. Philip Taylor said,

    June 27, 2020 @ 9:59 am

    "If I seem sensitive to those attacking Trump, it's not because I like to defend him but because I see that a substitute for attacking America in general" — In the United Kingdom, we have an almost directly analogous situation which is making headline news at the moment. A member of the shadow cabinet made certain allegations which cast Israel in a bad light; now she has been dismissed from her post for making anti-semitic statements. To my mind (and as an outsider to both arguments), it seems perfectly logical to me that one can attack Donald Trump without implicitly attacking America, and attack Israel without implicitly attacking Judaism in general. Would you not agree, Andrew ?

  38. Andrew Usher said,

    June 27, 2020 @ 12:06 pm

    Yes, of course!

    And I did not mean to claim that anti-Trump argument was necessarily anti-American, just that it seems to often be; many people making anti-Trump statements have previously expressed anti-American sentiments. But, perhaps, I have now provided an analogy to why many Jews may honestly perceive anti-Israel speech as anti-Semitic as well, which does not to me imply that that should automatically be accepted.

    But think I can be held to a lower standard, as I am not demanding or expecting anyone to be dismissed from their job, banned from this site, or punished in any other way. I believe in free speech, and the right of people (including me) to be wrong; as I see it, if people have opinions I don't like, no punishment is likely to make them change their minds – only further discussion can.

  39. Josh R said,

    June 28, 2020 @ 8:47 pm

    NulledApp said,
    "Today, we distinguish mere fans from true baseball nerds who obsess about minutiae of lore and statistics. One assumes both personality types existed in the 1880s; would they also have made the same sort of terminological distinction???"

    Statistical analysis of baseball would probably be dated to 1922 at the earliest, with the first publication of the Baseball Cyclopedia, but probably did not really take off until 1969 and the publication of the Baseball Encyclopedia, which was the first comprehensive statistical reference. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was founded in 1971, although not originally with much emphasis on statistical analysis in lieu of tallying of particular records. Statistical analysis as a fan pastime can be traced to Bill James' Baseball Abstracts, the first of which was in 1977. Merriam Webster puts the earliest use of the term "sabermetrics" (the name taken from the spoken form of the SABR acronym) at 1982.

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