Anaphoric iguana

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Peter Hamby, "Crist controversy resurfaces in new Netflix film", CNN 1/21/2014:

These days, Crist is considered persona non grata within the GOP. From top party officials on down to grassroots conservative activists, he is seen as a self-interested flip-flopper who left his party when it suited him politically in 2010.

In Romney-world, the aversion to Crist dates back even earlier, to that January evening in 2008 when campaign officials said he broke his word.

“Dem or Republican, I’ll do whatever I can to bury that iguana,” said Will Ritter, a former Romney aide and GOP consultant. “For as long as I live. For free.”

My first thought here was that iguana is one of the many deprecatory words — often originally animal terms — that can be used quasi-anaphorically:

I'll never forgive that louse. The hatred and resentment will never leave me.

That bitch will never love you the way I did.

Can you please tell that silly goose to stop wasting my time with balderdash?

I spoke with David Jackson 3 weeks later and that snake promised I would have this thing for Christmas.

That weasel never gave a thought about anybody but himself.

But if so, it's the only anaphoric iguana I've ever seen.

Neither can I  find any support for the theory that "bury the iguana" is some kind of figurative expression along the lines of "bury the hatchet" (= "make peace") or "drain the lizard" (= "urinate").

This leaves the theory that there's some specific connection between Charlie Crist and iguanas — maybe it was his childhood nickname?

Web search suggests a sneakier and more unpleasant reason for Will Ritter to have chosen that word — e.g. Bob Norman, "The Talk of the Green Iguana", Broward Palm Beach New Times 2/28/2008:

The rumors about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Green Iguana just wouldn't go away.

The story goes that the Florida governor frequented the Green Iguana, a bar in Tampa, back in the early 1990s when he was just starting his political career. He was less careful back then, people say, and during his partying at the Green Iguana, he was openly gay.

When I got Rick Calderoni, the bar's well-known owner, on the phone, I expected him to stonewall me about it.

He didn't.

Calderoni, who is gay, confirmed that Crist came into his bar quite often and that the two of them became friends.

Getting to the point, I asked him if he knew Crist to be gay.

"Yes," he answered bluntly. "I just wish he would come out and admit it. That would be a great thing if he did."

So was Will Ritter trying to reference those rumors covertly? I'm not sure, but so far I don't see any other explanation.

Update — Dave Weigel checked with Ritter ("'Bury That Iguana': The Birth of a Trash-Talk Term", Slate 1/23/2014) and he says it was just another animal metaphor:

Ritter says no. "I'd never seen that piece, nor would I care either way," he tells me. To him, iguana meant "reptilian, creepy, heartless."

Case closed, unless Crist wants to appeal.


  1. Rube said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

    My first thought was that it was a slip for "chameleon" — a reptile like the iguana, but one that changes its colours, like Crist — but the information about the Iguana Club makes that harder for me to believe.

  2. Alex said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    Yeah, I also thought the speaker meant "chameleon" based on the context, but iguana came out.

    Another possibility is that Crist is skinny with kind of a hook nose…

  3. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

    I googled up a bit of dialogue from a novel with the similar-sounding:
    "Dig up what you can on this precedent and then bury that lizard with it."

    "Bury" seems metaphorical in context; difficulty – this is a science fiction novel (by John Scalzi, whom I have heard of but never read) and so the person being referred to contemptuously may be not a human being but a member of some perhaps vaguely reptilian alien species.

    [(myl) I've read the book in question — the phrase "that lizard" indeed refers to a member of a "vaguely reptilian alien species", the Nidu. For instance, elsewhere in the book we read

    But the fact of the matter was he personally couldn’t give a shit about the Nidu one way or another as a people. He’d met more than his share of Nidu in his time in Washington, of course, and they were decent enough as intelligent nonhumans go. They all had a pole up their reptilian ass about personal status, but that just made them like everyone else in Washington.


    Assuming the "Green Iguana" allusion is the correct explanation here, I'm not sure that every use of an in-joke is presumptively a dog whistle.

  4. Robert said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

    I wondered if it might simply be a location-specific or rarely used term to describe a 'goof' or an 'ass'. For example, I've heard the term 'turkey' used to describe someone in this way.

    However, I think your last deduction is likely the one closest to being correct.

  5. Mark Mandel said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    Crist-ian innuendo does seem the likeliest bet.

    @Robert: "Turkey" is very common in this sense. Websearch for "turkey slang" finds plenty of hits for it, including
    Synonyms of turkey from the Merriam-Webster Online Thesaurus with antonyms, … dingbat, ding-dong, dipstick, doofus [slang], featherhead, git [British], goose, …

    In contrast, I've never heard any such use of "lizard". In a quick search for "lizard slang" I don't see any sense like this one. Most of the relevant hits are for "lounge lizard", Australian "flat out like a lizard drinking: Extremely busy, at top speed" or "lot lizard".

  6. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

    I do think "snake" (as in the fourth example above) would work well here because it carries the specific implication of untrustworthiness or deceit that some of the other deprecatory animals do not. So for those not in on the potential in-joke, swapping in another reptile may carry the same sense, as a somewhat jocular variation on a known pejorative theme, rather than being simply incomprehensible. Why you would pick one reptile rather than another to be swapped in is going to be a separate context-specific issue.

    Although iguanas do seem comical (as well as associated with southerly climes) in general, as witness the 40-foot iguana statue associated with that now-sadly-defunct NYC institution the Lone Star Cafe. Someone probably enjoyed writing the headline "Green Iguana Accused of Sexual Discrimination In Band Booking Practices" (I think referring to the same establishment, unless there are two unrelated bars in Tampa with confusingly similar names?), because it just sounds funnier than it would if the venue accused of such discrimination had a more boring name.

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

    As of right now, google sez: "No results found for 'deictic iguana.'" I hope we can expect a future LL post that rectifies that lack.

  8. Chris C. said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

    Were it not for the "Green Iguana" story, I'd have taken it for a reference to Tim Kazurinsky's "The Iguana" sketch from SNL.

  9. Andrew Myers said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

    Cute, but I think it's just a fancy way of calling him a lizard, i.e. a reptile who lacks normal human trustworthiness. The connection to the bar seems farfetched.

  10. John said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 10:29 pm

    Florida is currently being bothered by a rash of invasive species, Iguanas among them. The reference may have just been topical.

  11. Eric TF Bat said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 1:18 am

    Did anyone else pick up on Bob Norman's use of the verb "stonewall" in reference to a gay nightclub owner? I thought that was similarly noteworthy.

  12. Adam Washington said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 9:44 am

    How about this: Will Ritter meant "guano" not "iguana."
    "I’ll do whatever I can to bury that guano” makes sense to me.

  13. Svafa said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

    My first thought was that it was a reference to age (sometimes figuratively, in an out-dated or left-behind sense), as I've heard "reptile" used in that sense a few times. The accidental substitution for "chameleon" also seems possible. On the other hand, the more I consider the more the Green Iguana story seems the strongest. I was doubtful, but with a modicum of introspection I realized it's exactly the sort of obscure reference I would make.

  14. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

    Maybe it's a dog whistle thing aimed at other conservatives?

  15. Anthony said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

    Someone's comment (in full) on a 2009 blog post:
    No more RINOs like Mel Martinez and especially Charlie "Green Lizard" Crist.


  16. Xmun said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

    @Adam Washington
    I for one think your conjecture is a brilliant one and may well be right — but how can anyone know for sure?

  17. Robert Coren said,

    January 24, 2014 @ 11:20 am

    @Adam Washington: Could very well be. I know that whenever I mention my favorite Caribbean resort, Guana Island (in the British Virgin Islands), I have to explain that the name is shortening of "iguana" and has nothing to do with birdshit.

  18. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 24, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

    I am impressed by myl's ability to inspire actual media figures to do actual investigation for him and appreciative of his posting a link to the results. Perhaps "sometimes an iguana is only an iguana, Anna," as Freud may or may not have said to his daughter.

    Note by the way, in terms of the credibility of Ritter's account, that the timeline is that the Broward New Times story breaking the Green Iguana story (if that's what broke it? I don't know how Iguana-specific the prior rumors floating around Fla political circles might have been?) came out almost exactly a month after the Fla GOP primary and thus a month-and-change after Crist's "betrayal" of Romney and, more importantly, a few weeks after the ignominious demise of Romney's candidacy for that cycle. It is at least plausible that Ritter had enough other wounds to nurse by that point that he wouldn't have been actively keeping up on people saying new scandalous stuff about Crist in the Fla media. It may also be relevant that the Iguana story may have been initially pushed/hyped/circulated by people who disliked Crist from the left rather than those who disliked him from the right (i.e. people Ritter would be less likely to be in social/professional contact with).

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