Political flapping and voicing of coronal stops

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In most varieties of American English, coronal stops (/t/, /d/, /n/) that are not in the onset of stressed syllables are generally realized as ballistic "taps". And in these contexts, lexical (or historical) /t/ also loses its voicelessness.

So for most of us, traitor and trader are homophones.

But I wonder whether the slogan writer has confused the words as well as their spelling. An American who has encountered traitor mainly in speaking might well hear it as a figurative meaning of trader.

Extensions of trader in similar directions have happened before, among British speakers lacking the American homophony with traitor. The OED's entry for trader includes these senses and (sampled) citations:

1. b. In extended use. A person who deals in something abstract or immaterial, or who is occupied or concerned with something.

1613 H. Greenwood Treat. Day of Iudgem. (new ed.) sig. G4v Those that..eschew not the company of traders in iniquity.
1800 S. T. Coleridge tr. F. Schiller Piccolomini i. x. 42 That ancient trader In contraband negociations.
1889 Forum July 512 A mere trader in mendacity.

2. slang. A prostitute; (later also in somewhat weakened use) a woman who is regarded as immoral or promiscuous. Obsolete.

1615 R. Brathwait Strappado Ep. Ded. sig. A7 To all..Vshers, Panders, Suburbes Traders, Cockneies that haue manie fathers.
1693 Humours & Conversat. Town 39 I mean not Common Women, that live by Fornication, publick Traders.
1760 S. Foote Minor i. 44 Tip him an old trader, and give her to the knight.
1850 C. Dickens David Copperfield l. 511 Ha, ha! The liars that these traders are!



  1. Philip Taylor said,

    May 29, 2022 @ 5:52 am

    Well, as one who is "among [the] British speakers lacking the American homophony [of 'trader'] with traitor", I cannot see any sense of "traitor" in any of the citations from the OED adduced above . Are you able to indicate which, if any, appeared to convey connotations of "traitor" to you, Mark, of have I completely missed the point ?

    [(myl) "Extensions in similar directions": iniquity, contraband negociations, mendacity, liars. Don't you have better things to do than to pick literal-minded nits about the drift in the denotations and connotations of words over time? ]

  2. Doug said,

    May 29, 2022 @ 11:27 am

    Let me see if can offer further clarification for Philip Taylor.

    MYL hypothesizes that some Americans may be able to get from a figurative use of the word "trader" to the meaning "traitor." The quotes aren't supposed to illustrate "trader" already used in the meaning "traitor" but only to illustrate various semantic shifts in similar directions.

    The hypothesized process would depend on 2 observations:

    1. "Trader" can in certain contexts take on a specialized meaning of "One who trades in things that morally or legally ought not to be traded" — The citations of "Trader" meaning "Prostitute" would be a perfect example. *

    2. A traitor can be conceptualized as a person who trades some things that legally/morally ought not to be traded. This would be most obvious in the case of a traitor who accepts money in exchange for revealing their country's military secrets or the like. Even if no money is involved, a politician who neglects his country's best interests in order to receive some sort of benefit could be called a traitor, and could be conceived of as trading away his country's interest.

    From an American** point of view, this potential figurative use could be perfectly illustrated by Benedict Arnold, our most famous traitor. During the American Revolutionary War, he offered to surrender the fort at West Point to the British in exchange for 20,000 pounds. So he wanted to trade the fort for 20,000 pounds. Clearly a big-time traitor/trader.

    *Similarly in the right context if I call someone a "dealer" I'm likely to mean "dealer in illegal drugs", and if I say someone is involved in "trafficking it's almost certainly the trafficking of something illegal.

    **Doesn't work so well from a British point of view. Just imagine yourself in American shoes.

  3. /df said,

    May 29, 2022 @ 11:53 am

    Looking at the linked image, the homophony/poor speller hypothesis is quite plausible, but the comment and ensuing thread is punning on some US supermarket chain, no?

    Commerce (especially successful) was traditionally a lower activity in the British class structure than the professions or land-owning. "He owns 5000 acres but his father was in trade". This prejudice may still apply but more in the spirit of tall-poppy-lopping in the relatively classless Britain of the last few decades. Hence it was easy for 'trader' to acquire pejorative connotations. I'm not sure if this would also have applied in the land of free enterprise (ha!).

    Is this homophony universal in the USA, or are there some Anglo hold-out dialects?

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    May 29, 2022 @ 11:58 am

    Absolutely no nit-picking involved whatsoever, Mark — I was convinced that either you could find a sense of "traitor" where I could not, or that I had completely missed the point that you sought to make. I have no interest in trying to "score points", and most certainly not "score points" over someone such as yourself whose contributions to this forum are without exception both valuable and valued.

    But to address your response — "iniquity". Yes, but they are traders in iniquity — that casts no shadow on "traders" per se, since they could equally well have been dealers in iniquity, purveyors of iniquity, etc. And as I do not wish to labour the point, I believe that a similar argument could be made regarding the other use-cases of "trader" cited.

  5. Brett said,

    May 29, 2022 @ 2:45 pm

    The similarity (although not perfect homophony in Irish English) of traitors and traders seems* to be played upon in the last verse of Dominic Behan's lyrics to "The Patriot Game":

    And now as I lie here, my body all holes
    I think of those traitors who bargained in souls,
    And I wish that my rifle had given the same
    To those Quislings who sold out the patriot game.

    The most famous revision of the lyrics (by Liam Clancy) makes the wordplay even more explicit, changing the end of the second line to, "… who bargained and sold."

    * I say "seems" here because Behan's later comments about the song suggest that the impressive subtlety of some of the lyrics may have been largely accidental. For example, he appears not to have intended the powerful ambiguity of the opening lines:

    Come all ye young rebels, and list while I sing,
    For the love of one's country is a terrible thing.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 29, 2022 @ 3:42 pm

    Most jokes about the homophony and the grocery chain seem to go in the other direction, e.g. https://www.amazon.com/Traitor-Joes-EST-01-T-Shirt/dp/B092RTWPZW

  7. AntC said,

    May 29, 2022 @ 5:21 pm

    the relatively classless Britain of the last few decades.

    Huh? Which Britain are you talking about? The one in fairy-land?

    Britain is governed for the Oxbridge capitalist elite, by the Oxbridge capitalist elite (and their Russian oligarch helpmates). Wealth disparities now are at the worst they've been over "the last few decades" — since say the 1970's. The traitors to Britain are the ones who told a pack of lies blaming the EU for all ills, and are now fleecing those who were already suffering, whilst continuing to line their own pockets in tax havens created by Britain's lax tax controls — that benefit only the rich.

    Britain has never been 'classless'. Merely, its class system is not so nakedly plutocratic as in the U.S. Perhaps that's blinding you.

  8. Jenny Chu said,

    May 30, 2022 @ 12:41 am

    I wonder if the opposite could also be true: considering that the original photo shows someone who doesn't distinguish (in writing) between a traitor and a trader, do they also assume that Trader Joe's is named after someone who betrayed his country?

    I could readily imagine "Traitor Joe" as the name of an outlaw, Robin Hood-type folk hero – not really a traitor to his own crew, but so named by those in power because he turned against a repressive government to save his fellows …

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    May 30, 2022 @ 1:23 am

    I note that all the examples for the extended use 1b involve immorality, c.f. warmonger alongside cheesemonger.
    While I hadn’t met sense 2, I know trade as a euphemism for her occupation, and suspect trader came from that.

  10. /df said,

    May 30, 2022 @ 7:00 am

    relatively classless, compared to, say, before 1940. For anecdotal example, when the romance author Barbara Cartland, whose lifespan roughly matched the 20th century and that of the Queen Mother, and whose daughter was Di's stepmother, was asked whether class barriers had broken down, she replied:

    Of course they have, or I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.

    (I'm using the words as quoted in the link, if it worked, but that's also how I remember it, maybe "someone like you").

    Cambridge and even Oxford University are good "schools" which is why their alumni figure largely in politics and business. Meritocracy in the absence of a culling event, World War or Black Death, doesn't promote equality of outcomes: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.155163!/file/philosophicalcritique.pdf

    More on topic, this post raises the question of how language change differs in the absence/presence of literacy and, as often illustrated on this blog, how the script in use affects the latter case.

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    May 30, 2022 @ 10:35 am

    As a Briton, I don't think that Britain is classless at all (nor would I want it to be, to be honest). At the top we have royalty, the aristocracy and the hereditary owners of our stately homes, at the bottom we have the working classes, and in the middle we have members of the professions, officers in the armed forces and so on. In general we all know our place, show due deference where required, but endeavour to treat those less fortunate than ourselves with the same respect that we would treat our equals, if not our betters.

  12. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    May 31, 2022 @ 2:23 am


    Traditionally there have been but three professions: theology, law, medicine. These were known either as the three professions or as the learned professions. The term was ultimately extended to “one’s principal vocation,” which embraces prostitution as well as medicine. (The oldest profession originally had an irony stronger than today.) The restricted sense of profession no doubt strikes many people as snobbish and anachronistic.


  13. Philip Taylor said,

    May 31, 2022 @ 4:05 am

    Well, theology, law and medicine were certainly amongst the professions that I had in mind, but these days I would also include banking (at a level significantly higher than that of counter staff), teaching (especially University teaching), and so on. Prostitution is not, of course, a profession, although for some of its practitioners it may be a vocation.

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