Anti-Neanderthal prejudice?

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“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms […] And the last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking, that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”

Using Neanderthal to mean something like "unsophisticated", "primitive", "stupid"  is … well, I won't call it "Neanderthal", but it's ignorant and out of date.

People have recently been using #DeepNostalgia to animate faces reconstructed from Neanderthal skulls:

Recent analyses make it clear that in addition to interbreeding with modern humans, Neanderthals almost certainly had similar linguistic abilities — see most recently Mercedes Conde-Valverde et al., "Neaderthals and Homo sapiens had similar auditory and speech capabilities", Nature Ecology and Evolution 3/1/2021, or  Dan Dediu and Stephen Levinson, "Neanderthal language revisted: not only us", Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 2018. In fact, it's not really clear to me why we should call them a separate species.

And I resent this microagression personally, or at least 7.8% of me does. According to a Genographics DNA analysis a few years ago, my genome is 4.0% Neanderthal and 3.8% Denisovan.


  1. Chips Mackinolty said,

    March 3, 2021 @ 5:48 pm

    I agree, and have for not dissimilar reasons, had a problem with the word troglodyte, one of which meanings according to for example is "a person of degraded, primitive, or brutal character". So what is wrong with living in a cave? There is clear evidence that some of the earliest, and most wonderful, recorded visual art was painted on cave walls. Degraded? Primitive? Brutal? I think not!

  2. Gunnar said,

    March 3, 2021 @ 6:12 pm

    paleoanthropologist keeps track of this in his Neandertal anti-defamation files:

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 3, 2021 @ 8:25 pm

    There is always a felt need for abusive and pejorative words that won't transgress any currently-relevant societal taboo. It's like the flip side of the Euphemism Treadmill. "Moron" and "idiot" are safe choices at present, because (I hypothesize) it's been so long since they were used as technical terms by the medical profession,* whereas "retard" and related words are super-taboo right now because the medical profession has only recently completed the process of eliminating them from descriptive use. Maybe they'll become available for free-floating pejorative use again in a few generations.

    Presumably the President thought that "Neanderthal" fell into the moron/idiot category, but wasn't adequately briefed on shifting mores.

    *Plus we live in a "meritocracy" where intelligence is thought a sign of moral accomplishment rather than a windfall of the genetic lotter and/or early-childhood-environment lottery.

  4. Viseguy said,

    March 3, 2021 @ 8:53 pm

    To paraphrase the great Bob Mankoff New Yorker cartoon: "No, Neanderthal is out. How about Pleistocene? Is Pleistocene good for you?"

  5. Julian said,

    March 3, 2021 @ 10:23 pm

    And what about the poor folk who live in the Neandertal?

  6. Brett Altschul said,

    March 3, 2021 @ 10:39 pm

    It used to be claimed that there was no evidence that Neanderthals were responsible for any of the known cave paintings. Is that still true, or are there Neanderthal remains associated with any of the early art sites?

  7. Chips Mackinolty said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 12:47 am

    @Brett Altschul
    Yes, it would appear so, see for example

  8. Philip Anderson said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 1:56 am

    It’s not the only historical period that is used pejoratively: mediaeval, Victorian

  9. CD said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 3:27 am

    OT, but might be of LL interest:

  10. Stephen Goranson said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 3:28 am

    "…historical period…used pejoratively…"
    And Byzantine.

  11. David Thomson said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 4:05 am

    Maybe Joe meant the anti-maskers will fade/will be faded out of existence like the Neanderthals.

  12. Scott P. said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 4:19 am

    Using Neanderthal to mean something like "unsophisticated", "primitive", "stupid" is … well, I won't call it "Neanderthal",

    I took it as meaning "old-fashioned, out-of-date".

  13. maidhc said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 4:55 am

    There are Neanderthal skeletons that have suffered major injuries, but that have healed up, and the person has lived several years afterward. That indicates that Neanderthal social groups clearly looked after incapacitated individuals, fed them and helped them to survive when they were incapable of surviving on their own.

    That seems like admirable behaviour to me. I would hesitate to use Neanderthal as a term of abuse.

    On the other hand, who would one put up as the exemplar of irrational stupidity? Flat-earthers? Geocentric universe adherents, perhaps termed Ptolemaians?.

  14. GH said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 5:24 am

    The harmful effects of this bigotry was vividly documented by Geico a few years ago:

    How about "dunce," from the adherents of Duns Scotus?

  15. David Morris said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 7:32 am

    I spotted a headline to the effect that a Neanderthal gene increases the risk or severity of COVID-19. Searching for 'neanderthal genes covid' I found many seemingly authoritative sources.

    [(myl) Seems to be mixed. Thus "DNA from Neanderthals affects vulnerability to covid-19One genetic legacy is protective. Another is harmful", The Economist 2/27/2021:

    Two long sections of dna, both inherited from Neanderthals, appear to confer resistance or susceptibility to severe covid-19, depending on which is present.


  16. KeithB said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 9:17 am

    Don't you guys know that there are no such things as Neanderthals? They are just people with arthritis and rickets.

    (cf Jack Chick comic)

    [(myl) Indeed — p. 13 of this tract:


  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 4, 2021 @ 3:05 pm

    @Brett, I can't quickly find a copy online but I have a vague memory from decades ago of a New-Yorker-style cartoon where two archeologists are in a cave and one is saying to the other "Obviously the work of Neanderthal Man," in front of a generic cave painting of now-extinct wildlife accompanied by modern-style graffiti reading "CRO-MAGNON MAN SUCKS."

  18. James Wimberley said,

    March 12, 2021 @ 11:01 am

    A person prejudiced against Neanderthals is of course a Jim Cro.

    I suspect the pro and anti camps also divide on pronunciation: pros follow he German (niˈændərtɑːl).

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