February 13, 2016

The unsung heroes: the trimmers.

I got some email from a reader named Jim about my recent post that quotes Camille Paglia impugning Hillary Clinton as "a time-server and trimmer." He says he'd never seen "'trimmer' used to describe a person (except in the very literal sense of yacht crew)" other than in a book by Harry Crosby, “A Wing and a Prayer: The 'Bloody 100th' Bomb Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in Action over Europe in World War II”:





Jim observes that this use is "positive, acknowledging the importance of people who do their jobs diligently."
Camille P used the term pejoratively, but only mildly so, in the sense that merely being good at your job doesn't qualify you to be the boss. Or so I read things. I don't think she meant anything more harsh, though one or two of your other commenters took her meaning to be someone who shifted with the winds.
In his email responding to my request to quote him, Jim added: "I never forgot that reference as a testament to the unsung heroes who keep the world running well." (He also recommends the book, saying "an aviation book written by a navigator appealed to me since I'm a former naval flight officer.")

27 comments:

Michael K said...

I have heard the term used for cheating but can't find a definition just now.

Michael K said...

I have been sailing for 50 years and the use of trimming as hiking (what you described) is not anything I've heard. "Trimming" on a sailboat means tending the sheet, either mainsail, jib or spinnaker.

EDH said...

Having a fat ass is a plus for a real "trimmer," no?

Bob Boyd said...

"What's a trimmer?" is question I wouldn't be surprised to hear from Bernie Sanders.

MartyH said...

The term "trimming" as described is what we need more of-people who take their jobs seriously and perform their tasks diligently. For all of Bush's faults, I think he took the Presidency seriously. Obama seems to be concerned more with "winning the news cycle". Heck, apparently one of Obama's top assistants proudly described their philosophy as "don't do stupid stuff", which is about as unserious as you can get and has lead to our incredibly incoherent Middle East policy and the resultant chaos throughout that region.

Ann Althouse said...

The dictionary definitions for "trimmer" appear in the earlier post, the first link above.

traditionalguy said...

Being a trimmer is the job in which you get no credit from anyone except your self knowledge that they could not have done it without you. But if you mention that, they will get rid of you quick.
It brings to mind the real hero of the Midway encounter that was basic the turning point Battle of the 20th Century. He was a trimmer named Joe Rochefort. His superior political REMFs in DC then had him shipped out to nowhere as a reward for getting any credit for what he did for Nimitz. And he never complained.

Ann Althouse said...

Am I the only one who was distracted by the fact that "trim" — in slang — is a synonym for "pussy"?

My initial reaction to the word was that it was some lesbian innuendo. I readily admit that was wrong.

Michael K said...

Your wing and a Prayer definition of "trimmer" on a sailboat is nonsense. I suppose that is what you mean by "dictionary definitions."

virgil xenophon said...

@traditional guy/

Joe was the head of the Pearl Harbor-based code breakers who broke the Japanese military code which allowed us to identify Midway as the next Jap target. The big kids in intel in DC /Pentagon wanted to take all the credit for it and when he protested they transferred him to command a Navy dry-dock in S.F Bay...nevermind that one of America's smartest code-breakers was thereby TOTALLY lost to the war effort for the remainder of the war..after all, one has to keep ones priorities straight, n'cest-ce pas?

AReasonableMan said...

Michael K said...
"Trimming" on a sailboat means tending the sheet, either mainsail, jib or spinnaker.


This is also my understanding.

Hagar said...

In speeech, a "trimmer" means someone who goes along with whatever the current fashion is, regardless of what his personal - unspoken - opinions might be.

AReasonableMan said...

If you define 'conservative' as someone who doesn't rock the boat, who wants to maintain the status quo, it would be hard to find anyone more 'conservative' than Hillary in either party.

David Begley said...

In the packing house, a trimmer is one who cuts or trims meat.

I have always understood the word "trimmer" as one who cuts corners and is a bit of a liar. Not a bald fast liar but nonetheless deceptive,

But I have always lived in Nebraska and I have never really sailed.

David Begley said...

Bald face liar. Autocorrect error.

Hagar said...

I think the derivation is someone who trims his sails to the prevailing wind.
Which seems a reasonable thing to do, but in speech has the connotation of just following the prevailing winds rather than setting a course for some specific destination.

Hagar said...

Bill Clinton is a natural "trimmer."
Hillary! is not, she is a flatfooted flailer.

Michael K said...

"If you define 'conservative' as someone who doesn't rock the boat,"

I don't think most people who consider this seriously accept that definition. The traditional definition is more of one who respects tradition and wishes to preserve those traditions against whimsical faddish changes.

American conservatives consider Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk as their philosophers. Burke and Kirk do not agree on some things.

Bob said...

"As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale's head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right."

Michael K said...

"Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat."

Trimming the boat usually refers to fore and aft trim. "Down by the head or down by the stern."

When we were sailing with fore and aft sails, we kept people out of the stern and the crew referred to that as "Popping a wheelie."

When running with the spinnaker, we got everyone aft since the spinnaker tended to bury the bow with more force at the mast head.

A bit of video of my boat going to Hawaii.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Recommended reading (or listening) "Our First Revolution" by Michael Barone. Narrated excellently by Stephen Hoye. Available from Audible.com (owned by Amazon).

Trimmer: career public servant who keeps the Ship of State from heeling too far left or right.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

re. above: I'd been looking for an audio book about the English Civil Wars. None to be had, but did find the above about the Glorious Revolution.

Probably "Glorious" because it was so bloodless and so much by common consensus. The politically obtuse King James II unwittingly created the first political factions, Whigs and Tories, and contested elections in Brit history.

He alienated first the Whigs by heavy handed tactics to control the franchise, manage election procedures, and pack the Parliament. Realizing the extent of discontent he had fomented, he abruptly reversed course and pissed off the Tories and partisan local officials he had just installed.

William III, Stadholder of the Netherlands, was James' nephew and son-in-law - third in line to the throne in his own right, married to Mary who was first in line.

A *very* interesting read in this (or any) political year.

Ann Althouse said...

"Your wing and a Prayer definition of "trimmer" on a sailboat is nonsense. I suppose that is what you mean by "dictionary definitions.""

You clicked on the wrong link. The first link in the post goes to an earlier post of mine that discusses the word, with dictionary material.

Ann Althouse said...

"A trimmer. That's a rather British word, meaning someone who "inclines to each of two opposite sides as interest dictates," according to the OED, which attributes this usage "to Lord Halifax and those associated with him (1680–90), but by him accepted in the sense ‘one who keeps even the ship of state’; hence ‘one who changes sides to balance parties’ (Johnson)." Example from 1682: "A Trimmer, one neither Whigg nor Tory, is a Hater of Anti-christ, an Abominator of Enthusiasm.""

Dr Weevil said...

How's this for serendipity?
Terry Teachout recently recommended the aphorisms of George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax, and linked to the Wikipedia article on his long political career. There I found:
(1) A whole section entitled "The Trimmer 1680-1682", and
(2) That Halifax was one of the leaders in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which James I was replaced by his nephew and son-in-law William III and daughter Mary as co-rulers, with the transfer of the crown happening on . . . February 13.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Yes, the Glorious Revolution was well done work. Trimmers are insiders with a vote count in their heads.

All of England soon wanted the fifth columnist Catholic murderer removed. But half would not accept Dutch William of Orange as king, but they would accept the next in succession, Mary as Queen in place of James and William as her consort. But William would not accept coming over to England unless he was to be made the King.

Trimmers went to work on both sides and soon the insiders declared William and Mary as co-regents.

Bye bye, Catholic tyranny. The Art of the Deal in action.