March 26, 2017

Why did the NYT crossword clue "WASP" as "Martin Van Buren was the first president who wasn't one"?

It's so absurd! Rex Parker freaks out:
What a no-good, terrible, confusing, stupid clue for a perfectly good insect. Does WASP mean "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" here? If so ... WTF? No one used that term in the 19th century, so ... I mean, "inapt" doesn't even begin to cut it. I can only guess that this is the information at play in the non-WASP designation here:
Martin Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in the village of Kinderhook, New York about 20 miles (32 km) south of Albany on the Hudson River. Van Buren was the first President not born a British subject, or even of British ancestry. He was a descendant of Cornelis Maessen of the village of Buurmalsen, near the town of Buren in the Netherlands, who had come to North America in 1631 and purchased a plot of land on Manhattan Island; his son Martin Cornelisen took the surname Van Buren. (wikipedia)
No, wait, forget who knows or cares—even if you knew and cared, in what universe do you take your knowing and caring and turn it into a clue for, of all things, WASP, which is a pretty generic, and in my experience, at least mildly pejorative, term? Baffling. That was at 1-Across ... and the sourness never went away....
In the comments — this cracked me up — evil doug remembers the old "Seinfeld" dialogue:
KRAMER: Alright, so there I am at Lorenzo's - loading up my slice at the fixin's bar.. garlic and what-not... mmmm - and I see this guy over at the pizza boxes giving me the stink-eye. So I give him the crook-eye back, you know...Then, I notice that he's not alone! I'm taking on the entire Van Buren Boys!

JERRY: The Van Buren Boys? There's a street gang named after President Martin Van Buren?

KRAMER: Oh yeah, and they're just as mean as he was!


ADDED: Did you know that Martin Van Buren is the only U.S. President who did not have English as his first language? He was a native speaker of Dutch. I stumbled into that as I was retroactively adding my new tag "Van Buren" to old posts. I encountered this post from 2014 quoting John McWhorter as saying:
"In today’s America, to not be able to get down, or at least pretend to, is to be inarticulate. We live in a distinctly swaggery age. Obama, then, speaks a larger English than Romney – or Reagan, or Kennedy. It complements the fact that he is the first president since Martin Van Buren, who grew up speaking Dutch and broke into it when angry, to be raised in a household where more than just English was spoken. It’s stupid enough that Obama has to downplay his command of Indonesian to avoid looking like a Muslim; must we jump him for using the Black English spice kit?"
Does Obama speak Indonesian? CBS quoted him in July 2008 as saying: "I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing!" Was he lying? This chart lists him as having "partial mastery" of Indonesian (and, interestingly, shows that we haven't had a President who was fluent in a foreign language since FDR).

54 comments:

Etienne said...

Whenever I am assaulted by gang members, my first instinct is to always hold up eight fingers.

Bill Peschel said...

Jefferson was a Protestant? Who knew?

(Wikipedia adds that TJ self-identified as Christian, but adds this: "Upon the disestablishment of religion in Connecticut, he wrote to John Adams: 'I join you, therefore, in sincere congratulations that this den of the priesthood is at length broken up, and that a Protestant Popedom is no longer to disgrace the American history and character.'")

I wouldn't go into as much of a rant as Rex, but, yeah, for a crossword puzzle, that was sub-optimal.

3rdGradePB_GoodPerson said...

"Whenever I am assaulted by gang members, my first instinct is to always hold up eight fingers."

The read between the lines move. Smart.

Or you can go w/ a "ck" where the "k" is sorta obscured. Try to have it both ways. Is that a "crip killa" or a "crip?"

Fernandinande said...

The Battle of Caribou - never let it be forgotten.

Kevin said...

"and in my experience, at least mildly pejorative"

WASP sure seems quaintly out of fashion these days. The idea that some white people were privileged at the expense of other white people doesn't fit into the current narrative of all white people oppressing all non-white people, whether they know it or not.

FWBuff said...

According to Gore Vidal, Martin Van Buren was actually Aaron Burr's illegitimate son, so the clue doesn't fit after all!

robother said...

Van Buren was our first President who was just OK.

buwaya said...

You could argue that a Dutchman was probably an "Anglo" at least (a descendant of related Germanic peoples to those ancient Angles), if not a Saxon. And what about all those Normans?

Anyway, all that above is just as dumb as the argument over "WASP". Words, words words.

madAsHell said...

What will Obama's hint be?

Fore? Um....errr...ahh? TelePrompTer?

Hagar said...

Jefferso also wrote to someone that he constituted a religious denomination of one.

Laurent Canup said...

What also bothers me is that the clue has no hint that it was for an acronym. Normally if the clue is an abbreviation or acronym there is a call out. What a terrible clue.

Henry said...

Babe Ruth was fluent in German.

TerriW said...

"Jefferso also wrote to someone that he constituted a religious denomination of one."

Certainly no other president edited their own version of the Bible!

Henry said...

"Older than the Constitution" is a lot of letters.

campy said...

I think Obama is also fluent in Austrian.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

"Indonesian"? I refuse to believe that the world's fourth-largest country -- divided into countless islands, yet -- speaks a single language. We don't. China doesn't. India emphatically doesn't. (I seem to recall that of its two official languages, English and Hindi, only about 15% of the population speaks either one.)

Yup. From Wikipedia:

More than 700 regional languages are spoken in Indonesia's numerous islands.[217] Some belong to the Austronesian language family, while many Papuan languages are spoken in Western New Guinea.

But:

More than 700 regional languages are spoken in Indonesia's numerous islands.[217] Some belong to the Austronesian language family, while many Papuan languages are spoken in Western New Guinea. The official language is Indonesian (also known as Bahasa Indonesia) a variant of Malay,[218] which was used in the archipelago. It borrows heavily from local languages such as Javanese, Sundanese, Minangkabau, etc. Indonesian is primarily used in commerce, administration, education and the media, but most Indonesians speak other languages, such as Javanese, as their first language.The official language is Indonesian (also known as Bahasa Indonesia) a variant of Malay,[218] which was used in the archipelago. It borrows heavily from local languages such as Javanese, Sundanese, Minangkabau, etc. Indonesian is primarily used in commerce, administration, education and the media, but most Indonesians speak other languages, such as Javanese, as their first language.

So probably Obama's madrassa taught in Bahas Indonesia, which sounds syncretistic, a sort of Indonesian Esperanto. See? We're both right!

David in Cal said...

I started with W and tried "Whig" first, eventually discovering that it was "Wasp". "Wasp" is a word. Dictionary.com gives two definitions

1. a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
2. a member of the privileged, established white upper middle class in the U.S.

buwaya said...

There is a very fine short Youtube explanation of Indonesian/Bahasa vs Javanese and Malay, etc.
In case you care a bit - look for Langfocus on Indonesian Bahasa on Youtube. 13 minutes.

southcentralpa said...

Van Buren enthusiasts figured heavily in a Tick adventure ("The junta has now become the hunted!")

Michael K said...

campy beat me to it.

Achilles said...

WASP as a term is dying out because it means something different to everyone. When I learned it in the 80's it was tied together with the Blue Blood/Country Club Bush wing of the Republican party.

It is much easier to just use more effective and descriptive terms like GOPe and Vichy traitors.

glenn said...

Why did the NYT etc:

Because they are stupid?

traditionalguy said...

Van Buren was a big Andrew Jackson man, so whatever he spoke while a child, he turned into a 100% American speaker in Jackson's new Democracy Party.

The Dutch were New Amsterdamers before the King of England stole Manhattan by force. So they were old time Americans. More so than the Hesse Germans who were given rule in England to block a Catholic take over, which was not finally blocked until the Jacobin Catholics and their French Army were wiped out by Andrew Jackson's Scots-Irish ancestors at the Battle of the Boyne.

Evan said...

Ummmm... Andrew Jackson (Van Buren's predecessor) was Scots-Irish, which historically is not thought of as WASP (Celtic being distinguished from Anglo-Saxon). So the NYT Crossword is just plain wrong.

And of course this assumes you count Unitarians like the Adamses as "Protestants."

Unknown said...

Didn't Carter and Bush (Dubya) speak Spanish? Or were they not fluent?

exiledonmainstreet said...

Remember that in the early to mid 70's, being an "ethnic" white was briefly cool. Perhaps it was due to the emergence of directors like Scorcese and actors like DeNiro and Hoffman and Pacino. You suddenly saw "Kiss me, I'm Irish/Italian/Polish" buttons appearing. Florence King reacted by writing a book about her own tribe called "WASP, Where is Thy Sting?" King distinguished between the High WASPs and the middle and lower middle class WASPs (most of whom would not have described themselves as WASPs at all but as plain old "Americans.") It's an amusing book, but quite dated.

It was a brief 70's cultural oddity succeeded by another one: it's hard to imagine, kids, but Southerners were actually cool for a while when Carter was elected.

As Kevin wrote, whites are no longer distinguished by ethnicity but by the simple fact that they are white and all, apparently, are privileged, although the West Virginia coal miner and Pittsburgh construction worker stubbornly refuse to see it.

exiledonmainstreet said...

At any rate, I'm not afraid of no Martin Van Buren gang.

It's the Chester A. Arthur gang that scares me. They're bad dudes, I tell you!

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

traditionalguy said... [hush]​[hide comment]
...the Jacobin Catholics and their French Army were wiped out by Andrew Jackson's Scots-Irish ancestors at the Battle of the Boyne.

And the Scots-Irish were fighting for a Dutchman that was sitting on the English throne. Guess we've come full circle.

Scott said...

If Obama spent any time at all as a kid in Indonesia, it would be hard NOT to pick up Bahasa Indonesia. I got a basic proficiency with Bahasa Malaysia (very similar) with 10 weeks of after-work classes when I lived in Kuala Lumpur. Phonetic spelling, not many irregular verbs, almost nothing gender specific, possessives are positional. Easy to learn.

Sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit!

David said...

"we haven't had a President who was fluent in a foreign language since FDR . . . "

Fluent? He was likely lying about it. Lied about lots of things, most things, one could argue. But he was successful in his most important task, leading a victory in WW II, so nobody much cares that he lied a lot.

3rdGradePB_GoodPerson said...

"He was likely lying about it. Lied about lots of things"

I've always thought it was funny/interesting that the NYT tried to track down folks who would confirm BHO's drug use. But, they came up short. The implication was that he lied to exaggerate drug use.

"Mr. Obama’s account of his younger self and drugs, though, significantly differs from the recollections of others who do not recall his drug use. That could suggest he was so private about his usage that few people were aware of it, that the memories of those who knew him decades ago are fuzzy or rosier out of a desire to protect him, or that he added some writerly touches in his memoir to make the challenges he overcame seem more dramatic."

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/09/us/politics/09obama.html

AprilApple said...

If Obama isn't lying, the media will happily lie for him.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Some Jewish writer -- Woody Allen? Phillip Roth? -- said that "WASP" came from East Coast Jews in the beginning and middle of the last century. They needed to distinguish between Catholics, who were poor and recent immigrant Irish, Italians, Poles, etc. families, with the older, wealthier protestant families.
WASP doesn't sound like a name a group would give themselves, does it?

Lewis Wetzel said...

PB&J wrote:I've always thought it was funny/interesting that the NYT tried to track down folks who would confirm BHO's drug use. But, they came up short. The implication was that he lied to exaggerate drug use.

Kind of an ironic comment given that Althouse's post was about the NY Times INABILITY TO GET A CROSSWORD PUZZLE CLUE RIGHT!!!

exiledonmainstreet said...

When I was in England, I greatly amused a table of Englishmen and women by informing them that they were WASPs. They had never heard of the term, although one told me, "I suppose this is the mother nest then?"

LYNNDH said...

I am a History major and did not know this about Martin. Very interesting. I thought that JFK spoke French, but I guess is was really Jackie? Ike spoke a foreign language - Military.

madAsHell said...

WASP doesn't sound like a name a group would give themselves, does it?

You must be kidding.....
Bloods
Crips
Jets
Sharks

Megaera said...

Wasn't Dubya a capable Spanish-speaker?

Lewis Wetzel said...

They weren't a teenage street gang, madAsHell . . .
They were bankers and managers.
They lived off of capital, not wages :)

exhelodrvr1 said...

In the original Hardy Boys books (written in the 20s and 30s) one of their friends was an Italian-American. When the books were updated (60s?), that friend became black. (As far as I know, "really" black, not "Rachel Dolezal" black.)

The real question is, if they were updated again, would the friend be gay, transgender, or Muslim? The Hardy Boys books are the best way to identify who is at the top of the minority pecking order.

Unknown said...

Wasn't Dubya a capable Spanish-speaker?

Yes. Quite proficient.

Tom said...

GWB is fluent in Spanish. ¿Donde esta banyo?

jimbino said...

I 's likely he last president who spoke a foreign language was Teddy, who was fluent in French. Merkel is fluent in several and holds a doctorate in physics.

It's embarrassing that this "melting pot" of a country can't field multi-lingual politicians much less a scientist or mathematician.

rastajenk said...

Marty VB was the answer to a Jeopardy Final within the last couple of years, about English not being his "first" language. Wife Unit, who is not particularly skilled at this kind of minutiae, pulled that one out of her curvy butt in a shocking display of getting lucky; it was rare enough that I still remember it (obviously).

Hoover spoke Chinese.

Bob said...

Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou were fluent in Mandarin Chinese and resorted to it to speak confidentially in public.

tim in vermont said...

Bush derangement dies hard.

sykes.1 said...

@jimbino: Merkel is an example of the kind of person no one wants in power. She is an absolute lunatic, and has brought both Germany and the EU to the edge of ruin. As someone as noted, Germany has brought disaster upon Europe for the third time in 100 years.

Kevin said...

"Wasn't Dubya a capable Spanish-speaker?"

Doesn't fit the meme.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Blogger sykes 1 said
@jimbino: Merkel is an example of the kind of person no one wants in power. She is an absolute lunatic, and has brought both Germany and the EU to the edge of ruin. As someone as noted, Germany has brought disaster upon Europe for the third time in 100 years."

Yeah, almost every Continental politician is at least bilingual. Has that made them better or wiser leaders?

veni vidi vici said...

"spice kit"? What an ass-licking style of writing.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Slobodan Milosevic and his wife were shrinks. Zawahiri was an eye surgeon. Mohammed Atta was an engineer.

Yeah, hand it over to STEM. What's the worst that could happen?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...This chart lists him as having "partial mastery" of Indonesian (and, interestingly, shows that we haven't had a President who was fluent in a foreign language since FDR)

Hey, you coulda had Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio, but nooooooo.

Jefferson spoke French and read Italian. Most of the founding fathers were at least familiar with both Latin and Greek. John Q Adams lived in the Netherlands so he probably had Dutch, as well. Teddy Roosevelt spoke French and FDR spoke German.

johns said...

If we wanted a bi-lingual president, we could have elected John Kerry

Rockport Conservative said...

"Did you know that Martin Van Buren is the only U.S. President who did not have English as his first language? He was a native speaker of Dutch."
No, I do not ever remember hearing that. I am surprised I've never read or heard it. Or maybe is just disremember as some of the old folks say.
Is he the only president who spoke Dutch?