Words are powerful things, calling up images that capture as little as a single moment or as much as an entire era. This past year was loaded with words and phrases that might have left many, especially politicians, wishing they had heard this from Winston Churchill’s lips:
“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”
Beginning with the words that illustrated pivotal moments in this year’s election, here are 2012’s most memorable ones:
(1) Binders full of women. If there were still women casting an uncertain eye at Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his comment in a debate about ‘binders full of women’ surely sent them in the other direction. First of all, the reference made it seem he didn’t personally know any career women and had to have others collect them for him. Secondly, it was an uncomfortable image for keeping women in their place. The phrase ricocheted around the Internet and made Romney an instant object of ridicule.
(2) The 47%. In September, Romney said at a private fund-raiser that 47% of the American public would vote for Obama no matter what, because they were dependent victims who didn’t pay taxes. Furthermore, it wasn’t his job to worry about them. Unfortunately for him, his words were secretly recorded. When they were released to the public, they, too, shot around the world through social networking, dismaying the public he had so readily dismissed. Ironically and justly, Romney then received only 47% of the vote.
(3) Eastwooding. Here, someone else’s words became the problem. Unfortunately for Romney, the problem was still his. During the GOP’s National Convention, actor Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair as if President Obama were sitting in it, raising questions about both his sanity and Romney’s judgement, since Eastwood was the candidate’s personal choice of speaker. On the upside, the American public gained a new term for talking to empty chairs.
(4) Legitimate rape. U.S Representative Todd Akin of Missouri was running for the Senate this year when asked about whether abortion should be allowed for rape victims. In answering “no,” he referenced “legitimate rape,” seeming to invalidate some rapes and question the integrity of the women involved. His candidacy immediately tanked and he belatedly learned one of the primary lessons of the 2012 election: you can’t win without women.
(5) Bunch of malarkey. Some spontaneous political outbursts work out well. During a debate between vice-presidential candidates, Vice President Joe Biden cut GOP candidate Paul Ryan off at the knees, calling Ryan’s inaccuracies on foreign affairs a “bunch of malarkey.” The phrase became an instant hit on Google and gave Biden’s reputation as a straight-shooter a huge boost.
(6) Gangnam style. The catchy song and video by South Korean rapper PSY really caught on in the U.S. when it was used to parody…uh, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. PSY’s “galloping pony ride” dance seemed particularly apt when performed in what was supposedly Romney’s horse barn.
(7) Fiscal cliff. The entire U.S. Congress has gotten itself caught in the web of this term. The “fiscal cliff” is what the country is supposedly going over when low tax rates expire and drastic, automatic budget cuts kick in, if Congress doesn’t act by the New Year. Some think it’s all a bunch of hype that hides the real reason the economy may take another nose-dive.
(8) Pink slime. This term to describe the filler put in ground beef was first used by a former USDA meat inspector in 2002. However, it hit the public consciousness when the media grabbed ahold of it this year. Pink slime is beef trimmings that are turned into mush and exposed to ammonium gas to kill bacteria before being added to ground beef. While the American public had a bellyful of the image, causing companies like McDonald’s to ban its use, Republican governors like Rick Perry defended the product. Hmm. Wonder whose pockets those guys are in?
(9) Frankenstorm. When Hurricane Sandy headed up the eastern seaboard to collide with a snowstorm coming from the West and a cold front coming down from Canada, a report by National Public Radio dubbed it “Frankenstorm”–a perfect combination of factors creating a storm of almost unheard of proportions. It was every bit as destructive as predicted, causing tremendous logistical and political problems that continue today. One consequence of the storm was New Jersey’s GOP governor, Chris Christie, embracing the help of Democratic President Barack Obama, and literally embracing him in a bear hug–a brief, but heartwarming moment of bipartisanship.
(10) Nomophobia. I don’t honestly know of a political connection to this one, but it’s a huge problem in my life. Once you understand what it is, you’ll probably see that it’s a huge one in yours, too. “Nomophobia” is the fear of being without mobile phone contact, either through losing it, forgetting it, running out of battery power, or being outside of your service area. Check your pockets.
Have a Happy New Year, and never forget the words of Jean-Paul Sartre:
“Words are loaded pistols.”