Attila the Republican

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A new political advertisement, apparently from the campaign of Kelly Loeffler:

The "fight China" part seems to be based on stereotypes of Genghis Khan, since Attila attacked Persia and the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, including France and Italy, and never threatened China. The "attack big government" and "eliminate the liberal scribes" points fit generic stereotypes of uncivilized conqueror brutality — but Attila's goal was to establish a bigger government, ruling all the empires and nations that he conquered. This goal is "conservative" only if you think that "conservative" means "authoritarian and destructive".

And the actor's brutish and undifferentiated growls are again stereotypes of an animalistic conqueror, but not a plausible rendition of the Chuvash-like Turkic language that Attila probably spoke natively:

In particular, the actor's third disyllabic growl doesn't seem likely to be a way to say "Eliminate the liberal scribes" in any language:

All in all, this ad might be a parody. I certainly hope so.


  1. David Cameron Staples said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 8:01 am

    Poe's Law: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake for the genuine article."

    Corollary: no matter how extreme the viewpoints portrayed, it is impossibly to, a priori, tell the difference between a parody and an actual swivel-eyed lunatic.

  2. Mark P said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 8:17 am

    MYL, as a resident of Georgia, I can tell you that you hope in vain. At first I thought it was her opponent’s ad, but no.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 8:31 am

    I assume this is intended to evoke the stock phrase (typically at least semi-jocular when used by those who are themselves right of center) "to be to the right of Attila the Hun," which I can myself recall hearing as early as 1985. Dipping into the google books corpus (which of course has its limitations) the earliest hit I can find using the phrase is a witness in a 1980 Congressional hearing about illicit methamphetamine laboratories. Interestingly enough (check w/ Prof. Labov?), it's a Philly-area witness (the then-District-Attorney of Delaware County) and there's a certain echo of the campaign pledge by that legendary Philadelphian Mayor Rizzo (from his 1975 reelection campaign) that "I'm going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot." And somewhere back around there on the other side of the pond arose the (perhaps mildly misogynistic?) usage of referring to Prime Minister Thatcher as "Attila the Hen."

  4. Mark P said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 8:57 am

    The late science fiction writer and Byte columnist Jerry Pournelle said that his political views were to the right of Attila the Hun.

  5. Bloix said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 8:58 am

    "eliminate the liberal scribes"

    This call for the murder of journalists is an example of the rhetorical device known as kidding on the square.

    It's not a new thing. In 2002, Ann Coulter said that "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." When later asked if she regretted saying it, she said, "I should have added, 'after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.'"

    In 2015, Trump gave us a good example of another rhetorical device, apophasis. Speaking of reporters who were covering a rally, he told the crowd:

    "I hate some of these people, I hate 'em. I would never kill them. I would never do that. Uh, let's see, uh? No, I would never do that."

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 9:46 am

    Mark P: Googling reveals a 1987 issue of a different computer magazine (InfoWorld) in which someone named William F. Zachmann writes "Politically I am somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. Compared to me, Jerry Pournelle is a liberal Democrat."

  7. Orbeiter said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 9:54 am

    The silliest candidate since Jethro Q. Walrustitty!

    I suppose the writers were attempting a kind of meta-irony: affirming that they are not, in fact, concerned about being mocked for being too conservative. It definitely wouldn't be well received by British audiences; I have noticed on other occasions that Americans appreciate irony less acutely and am interpreting this advertisement in that light.

  8. David Marjanović said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 10:18 am

    the Chuvash-like Turkic language that Attila probably spoke natively

    Is that just based just on a general idea of who was probably in the steppe around that time, or are there actual West Turkic interpretations of, say, names like Bleda and Mundzuc?

    [(myl) In a 2004 LLOG post, Don Ringe is quoted:

    "I think the prevailing opinion is that they were probably speakers of some Turkic language–and probably not of the 'nuclear' branch, which should still have occupied a compact area in western Mongolia at the time, so possibly something more closely related to Chuvash?? But so far as I know, this is all speculation."


  9. Doug said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 10:20 am

    One might just as easily say Attila was a left-winger; he was keen on redistributing wealth.

    This of course isn't the first time conservatives have jocularly adopted the stereotypes liberals have about them.

    There was this item in the Washington Post back in 1995:

    "Conservatives have invited 3,000 right-leaning luminaries to a New Year's retreat in Florida intended to rival the annual Renaissance Weekend in Hilton Head, S.C., attended by friends of President Clinton. The conservatives, those wags, are calling theirs the Dark Ages Weekend.

    Calling their weekend the Dark Ages is "a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at the pretensions of the Renaissance crowd," said Laura Ingraham, the weekend's co-founder and a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. "Conservatives have a sense of humor, can laugh at themselves. We obviously don't want to go back to the Dark Ages, but it's a nifty, funny name." "

  10. Mark P said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 10:23 am

    Georgia politicians absolutely mean what they say. For them, irony is what gets wrinkles out of clothes. Posing with firearms and laughingly threatening to shoot people, as Gov Brian Kemp did in a campaign an, is business as usual.

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 10:31 am

    Bloix — "This […] is an example of the rhetorical device known as kidding on the square". Not a term with which I am familiar — does it have any connection (as far as you know) with the Masonic phrase "on the square" ?

    [(myl) I don't think so — here's the Wiktionary entry.]

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 11:09 am

    I was not familiar with the "kidding on the square" idiom myself, but I must admit that Damon-Runyon-to-Mose-Allison is an impressive pedigree.

  13. Jason said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 11:09 am

    @Philip Taylor

    Al Franken coined the phrase "Kidding on the Square" in his book "Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them."

    As far as dog-whistles go, yes this ad is pretty appalling, but in the spirit of fairness, language log has studiously ignored four years of appallingly incendiary rhetoric from democrats and supporters including Kathy Griffin putting Trump's head on a platter, Snoop-Dogg shooting Trump in clown-face, various incendiary dog-whistles from BLM supporters like Maxine Waters, etc. Both sides are doing it and the Dems are the ones with a brown-shirt army of BLM and Antifa affiliates terrorising the suburbs, establishing "autonomous" zones with rape, murder and violence. Just today the New York Times reported on hordes BLM activists threatening to burn down the houses of people flying the American flag, and even cases of BLM thugs threatening people who *don't* raise their fists for the cause because "silence is violence".

    This is politics, but the point is that language is the domain of contention. People are being attacked in their homes for *not positively endorsing BLM rhetoric" while brownshirts march through neighborhoods chanting "You'll never sleep tight, we do this every night".

    But continue to believe it's just those awful republicans using this kind of rhetoric — it is language log after all. Read and tell me there isn't terrifying rhetoric coming out of the left these days.

  14. Scott P. said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 11:42 am

    Both sides are doing it and the Dems are the ones with a brown-shirt army of BLM and Antifa affiliates terrorising the suburbs, establishing "autonomous" zones with rape, murder and violence. Just today the New York Times reported on hordes BLM activists threatening to burn down the houses of people flying the American flag, and even cases of BLM thugs threatening people who *don't* raise their fists for the cause because "silence is violence".

    This is politics, but the point is that language is the domain of contention. People are being attacked in their homes for *not positively endorsing BLM rhetoric" while brownshirts march through neighborhoods chanting "You'll never sleep tight, we do this every night".

    This is a joke, right? None of the above is true. Meanwhile, right-wing militias are stopping people on the highway in Oregon and elsewhere demanding that they be searched for "Antifa operatives" and threatening to shoot anyone who doesn't pass muster.

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 12:00 pm

    « right-wing militias are stopping people on the highway in Oregon and elsewhere demanding that they be searched for "Antifa operatives" ».

    Assuming that "they" refers back to "people", rather than to "right-wing militias", which is how my brain insists on interpreting it, how can "people" conceal "Antifa operatives" ? If you had asserted that the militias are stopping vehicles, the remainder might make some sense, but to suggest that « militias are stopping people […] and […] demanding that they be searched for "Antifa operatives" » is really pushing the bounds of credulity.

  16. James Parkin said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 12:43 pm


    "It is important for the liberal to see that the oppressed person who agitates for his rights is not the creator of tension. He merely brings out the hidden tension that is already alive. Last Summer when we had our open housing marches in Chicago, many of our white liberal friends cried out in horror and dismay: “You are creating hatred and hostility in the white communities in which you are marching, You are only developing a white backlash.” I could never understand that logic. They failed to realize that the hatred and the hostilities were already latently or subconsciously present. Our marches merely brought them to the surface"


  17. Haamu said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 2:34 pm

    @Philip Taylor — "Stopping people" for "[stopping vehicles]" is basic metonymy, isn't it?

    If you were making a joke, apologies for stepping on it.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 3:12 pm

    I don't have a problem with "stopping people" being interpreted as "stopping vehicles" when the universe of discourse is a public highway, but the "they" that follows can refer back to only to the militias or to the people being stopped, not to any vehicle in which the latter might be travelling.

  19. Mark P said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 4:21 pm

    I had no trouble figuring out what was meant.

  20. Michael Carasik said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 4:47 pm

  21. Terry K. said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 5:14 pm

    Ah, I like a blog where discussion the linguistic details of a political comment is appropriate.

    I'm with Philip Taylor. Stopping people on the highway, when you are stopping both people and the vehicles they are in, no problem. But the "they" pronoun for me refers back to the people being stopped, not the vehicles being stopped, and it is clearly not the people being searched for "Antifa operatives". Not horrible, ant not something to nitpick over, but it is a not-right usage for me, and, hey, this is a language blog, not a political blog, so it's not inappropriate to make language observations.

  22. KevinM said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 5:24 pm

    FWIW, Trump looks photoshopped to me.

  23. Etienne said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 5:25 pm

    On "to the right of Attila the Hun": There is an earlier attestation. In his 1979 novel SHIBUMI, the writer Trevanian had his protagonist, Nicholai Hel, say of his mother that politically she was "…to the right of Attila".

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 6:50 pm

    I agree with Philip Taylor and others about the stopping people for stopping vehicles phrase: the 'they' doesn't quite work.

    The bigger grammatical problem, though, is "demanding that they be searched …" – that implies a third party to whom the demands are being made (the police?), which I think is off the rails of the intended meaning.

    I'll admit that I haven't really followed the lawless behavior in Oregon, but it's certainly a disgrace that all reasonable efforts to stop it haven't been made – regardless of who's responsible.

    k_over_hbarc at

  25. AntC said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 7:48 pm

    One might just as easily say Attila was a left-winger; he was keen on redistributing wealth.

    Indeed. I wonder which parts of Attila's 'platform' Loeffler is espousing.

    He's not noted for killing scribes particularly; whereas he is noted for " His army sacked numerous cities and razed Aquileia so completely that it was afterwards hard to recognize its original site." I'd suspect a similar fate for Trump Towers.

    " they took captive the churches and monasteries and slew the monks and maidens in great numbers." Mike Pence had better beware. Also women, I'd guess particularly fair-skinned women.

    Does Ms. Loeffler wish to reintroduce slavery? (Ensalvement of defeated peoples was so prevalent at the time, it's hardly worth mentioning in the historical record — Attila merely followed the practices of the empires he conquered)? Who does she think Attila (described as having "swarthy skin") would enslave?

    [quotes from wp]

  26. Andrew Usher said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 9:02 pm

    The whole point is that Attila doesn't belong anywhere in a modern political discussion. Let it remain given up (except as a joke).

  27. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 9:23 pm

    "it is clearly not the people being searched for 'Antifa operatives'."

    Why not? Antifa operatives are people, so if I were searching for them, I'd be looking at people, not their vehicles.

  28. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 10:00 pm

    I should have noted earlier than even if the historical Attila never threatened China, one of his symbolic entrances into modern political discourse very much did involve China policy, namely the famous "Hun speech" given by Wilhelm II to German troops in June 1900 in the context of the Boxer Rebellion.

  29. Seth said,

    September 22, 2020 @ 10:46 pm

    @KevinM – Trump generally tends to look photoshopped, due to his bad bronzing face makeup –

    @J.W. Brewer – exactly right, the ad is playing off that longstanding political saying about Attila the Hun. Objections that it's ahistorical to the real Attila's policies or that the actor isn't speaking in authentic proto-Turkish strike me as similar to making a big deal about technobabble like "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" in SF television shows and why do so many aliens speak English. The ad is using Attila as a kind of comedy skit character. The skit premise is imagine the cliche-Attila (not real Attila) in a few of our current debates. It's a political ad, not a historical drama.
    Though it would have been funny if the actor was saying something insulting in a real language, like the old Nike ad where a Kenyan tribeman was actually saying he didn't want them.

  30. AntC said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 12:05 am

    I wonder if the Hun of the 'to the right of' meme has gotten mixed up with the war slang of 1914 has gotten mixed up with that slang re-cycled in the 1939 war has gotten mixed up with the right-wing belligerent Party. [Years a little later for our cousins across the Atlantic.]

  31. Terry K. said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 10:05 am

    @Gregory Kusnick

    It's not like we are talking a large group of people. You can search a crowd for Antifa operatives. That makes sense. But the statement, "stopping people on the highway in Oregon and elsewhere demanding that they be searched" to me reads as stopping individuals and searching those individuals. I can't search a person looking for a person. If I'm searching a person, I'm searching for something they are wearing or carrying. I might even be searching for evidence they are some sort of operative. But I am not, at that point, searching for people.

    This relates the different ways "people" is used in English. Sometimes, it refers to a crowd. A mass noun. Sometimes, it's the plural of person. And to me, in the context, only the "persons" meaning works, so it means each person is being searched, not a group of people being searched.

  32. Terry Hunt said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 11:12 am

    On a different note, I wonder if the has been (or will be) any complaints from Mongolia over the co-option of one of their most revered historical figures by a foreign political faction, and for its un-historical and unflattering portrayal of him?

  33. Terry Hunt said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 11:13 am

    For first "the", please read "there" – Doh!

  34. Philip Anderson said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 4:50 pm

    The expression I am familiar with is “to the right of Genghis Khan”. And the earliest reference found here (1963) is from Philadelphia:

  35. Haamu said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 5:52 pm

    I hope anyone lingering here won't find it too tedious if I backtrack to this problematic "they":

    … right-wing militias are stopping people on the highway in Oregon and elsewhere demanding that they be searched for "Antifa operatives" …

    Earlier in this thread, I was intrigued to find I was an apparent outlier because I didn't find "they" objectionable. As a result, I've been down a fairly entertaining rabbit-hole for the last 24 hours. My thanks to Philip Taylor and the others who backed him up for sending me there.

    Philip said

    the "they" that follows can refer back to only to the militias or to the people being stopped, not to any vehicle in which the latter might be travelling

    but that made me wonder why, when the antecedent of a pronoun is a metonym, the anaphoric reference can only be to the literal meaning of the metonym and not to its target meaning.

    Well, it turns out that "metonymic anaphora" is a thing and the whole topic of metonymy is pretty interesting, at least to me. (It's a weirdly gratifying sensation to find, later in life, a whole new area that I enjoy geeking out on, even as I lack the foundational training to geek out confidently. I admit be being a bit out of my depth slinging some of this terminology around.)

    There are definitely limitations on when an anaphoric reference can reach the target domain (and I don't claim to have grasped all the particulars), but it clearly seems to be able to in some cases. For instance, for me, the sentence

    I flagged down a cab and had him drop me at Penn Station

    is both grammatical and cognitively sensible, even though making sense of "him" seems to require inferring a VEHICLE FOR DRIVER metonymy and understanding an anaphoric reference to the driver.

    It may be that the reason the original example that Philip objects to is more problematic is that I'm proposing a DRIVER FOR VEHICLE metonymy, which is probably a lot less common and therefore less obvious. Alternatively, it may be that we're primed to process "they" as a person rather than a vehicle because of the phrasing "demand that they," which seems to require the former. Or there may be some other factor at play.

    I have to admit, though, that my original hypothesis — that "they" refers metonymically to vehicles — is weak. Based on my reading, it seems fairly settled that the target domain is typically not available for anaphoric reference. One of the papers linked above offers as an example (slightly adapted)

    Bush bombed civilians in Iraq

    and notes that "Bush" has to be processed as a RULER FOR ARMED FORCES metonymy, i.e., it was not Bush but Bush's air force that did the bombing. But then you can't have an anaphoric reference like

    *Bush bombed civilians in Iraq and then they came back to the air base

    It isn't just that "they" might be misinterpreted here as "civilians"; it's that the target meaning of "air force" (or "planes" or whatever) can't be referenced.

    But this example and various others have led me to the observation that many instances that look like metonymy could be explained, alternatively, by admitting that a verb has multiple meanings. Here "bombed" could mean "dropped bombs on," requiring the metonymy, or it could mean "directed the bombing of," in which case "Bush" can be taken literally and non-metonymically as Bush himself.

    This is a long-winded way of arriving at my revised hypothesis for why "they" in the original snippet is acceptable to me: the verb "searched" allows for several interpretations, and I seem to be employing one that is broader in scope than some others might. To me, "demanding that they be searched" can sensibly mean "demanding that their bodies and their immediate associates, possessions, and environs be searched."

    As a thought experiment, imagine a slightly simpler example:

    Police are stopping people on Highway 10 and searching them

    and ask yourself: Are the police searching (a) the driver's body cavities; (b) the driver's pockets; (c) the other people in the car; (d) the passenger compartment; (e) the trunk/boot? My inclination is to say (f) all of the above — except (a). Ironically, what's closest to the driver is the least likely to be in the scope of "searching" as I would understand it here.

    Anyway, if you've read this far, blessings upon you. And good night.

  36. Andrew Usher said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 6:13 pm

    It seems some people confuse Attila with Genghis Khan – perhaps Terry Hunt did (Attila wasn't a Mongol, was he?). Anyway, the one is no more appropriate than the other.

    As for AntC's contribution, I can't understand it, except that he of course had to finish with a jab at America.

  37. Seth said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 7:15 pm

    Attila might have gotten a boost in name recognition and hence in the "to the right of …" phrase, due to the business book from a while back "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun". That book would have been popular with the sort of person who was likely to use the phrase.

  38. Haamu said,

    September 23, 2020 @ 7:22 pm

    As long as I’m on the subject of metonymy:

    Thanks, Andrew, for an excellent example. “America” is traditionally one of the most popular of all metonyms. As to what the target meaning is in this case, I leave that as a exercise for the reader.

  39. AntC said,

    September 24, 2020 @ 4:04 am

    Politifact on the Attila claim

  40. David Morris said,

    September 24, 2020 @ 5:20 am

    Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita (concept album 1976, West End 1978) describes the Grupo de Oficiales Unidos, of which Juan Perón was a member, as 'slightly to the right of Attila the Hun'.

  41. David Morris said,

    September 24, 2020 @ 5:21 am

    … and Tim Rice's

  42. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 24, 2020 @ 12:50 pm

    Here's an interesting non-political instance of modern metaphorical usage: "Baine took the performing name Attila the Stockbroker during a short stint as a City stockbroker's clerk between 1980 and 1981 because a colleague accused him of having the eating habits of Attila the Hun."

  43. Terry K. said,

    September 24, 2020 @ 1:24 pm

    @Haamu. Interesting observation about the meaning of "searched". Yes, I agree if "searched [the people stopped]" includes searching their possessions, including their vehicles, then it works. Though for me the word "search" doesn't work that way. It could include a possession they are carrying, like a purse. But not searching a car or a house or such.

  44. Guy said,

    September 24, 2020 @ 1:54 pm

    My initial interpretation of the phrase that has inspired so much discussion was that “people” simply meant “groups of people” and the idea of searching a group of people for members seems perfectly fine. I suppose it’s possible that this isn’t the intended interpretation because it seems less okay when we draw attention to the fact some people are stopped individually.

    The idea of metonymic anaphora is very interesting though and I’m feeling inspired to look into it to.

  45. Viseguy said,

    September 25, 2020 @ 8:04 pm

    "Eliminate the liberal scribes" — that was the point at which I stopped giving the benefit of the doubt. Being a liberal, I don't believe that the conservative pharisees should be eliminated. Just voted out. I've long suspected that Attila was slighted by history, but the history of the early 21st Century will put that to rights, it seems.

  46. Andrew Usher said,

    September 26, 2020 @ 6:56 pm

    I don't think 'America' for the United States of America can be called a metonym, if it ever was. It's simply one of the names for that country.

  47. Greg said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 4:09 am

    > This is a joke, right? None of the above is true.

    @Scott P.: The comment you're replying to links to an NYT article which describes a couple of the incidents it's based on. Here's one (excerpted):

    > “It went from a peaceful march, calling out the names, to all of a sudden, bang, ‘How dare you fly the American flag?’” said Mr. Moses, who is Black and runs a nonprofit group in the Portland, Ore., area. “They said take it down. They wouldn’t leave. They said they’re going to come back and burn the house down.”

    I imagine that was pretty scary for the people who live in that house. I'd sure be scared — as well as outraged, and stubbornly determined to fly the flag all the more.

    It's a mistake to both-sides this, as Jason was doing. There's a big difference between a few hotheads on the street threatening violence, and a sitting US senator. Joe Biden has been loud and unequivocal in condemning political violence — a stark contrast with the president, and with his many Republican enablers like Loeffler.

    But it's understandable many people are scared. The footer of the article says the NYT printed it on the front page, and I think this genre of lurid tale has been running in most of the news media for months; a lot of people will have gotten a picture a lot like the one Jason painted. Exaggerated though it may be, there are real incidents at its core. Denying them doesn't help in persuading anybody.

  48. Haamu said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 4:27 pm

    Andrew: I think you've missed my point. Granted, "'America' for the United States of America" is not a metonym, or at least not a particularly interesting one. But you're ignoring metonymies like NATION FOR LEADER and NATION FOR FACTION and NATION FOR SUBCULTURE and NATION FOR CASTE that crop up frequently in discourse around current events.

    You see a "jab at America," but I find, upon carefully rereading the comment in question, a jab at something else. It's the casual equation of the two that's interesting.

  49. Andrew Usher said,

    September 28, 2020 @ 7:46 pm

    Actually that comment was so apparently incoherent I couldn't say exactly what I see; I concluded that because of previous history with that poster.

    If we're talking about Trump, we can at least name him – I don't like to because it's just too purely political, but I can say that it's a mistake when non-Americans assume that he personally represents the values of the Americans that elected him. It is more complicated than that.

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