August 8, 2004

"Quasi": the plausible deniability prefix.

Last week, Jeremy called me "quasi-snobbish" for taking account of the hierarchy of prestige among law schools. Responding to him, I dropped the quasi, and he wrote: "I said quasi-snobbish; I don't deploy Latinate prefixes idly." So, my ears perked up at this interchange between Paul Krugman and Bill O'Reilly on Tim Russert's show last night:
KRUGMAN: The United States is the lowest taxed advanced country, by far ...

O'REILLY: Yeah, because they're not a socialist country. [O'Reilly asserts that Ronald Reagan's tax policy stimulated the economic growth of the 90s.]

KRUGMAN (sarcastically): I love this!

O'REILLY: ... I don't care whether you believe it or not. You're a quasi-socialist. ...

KRUGMAN: ... You take a look at anything I've written about economics and I'm not a socialist. You know, that's a slander.

O'REILLY (serenely and smugly): I said quasi.

KRUGMAN: Well, that's a wonderful out. Then you're a quasi-murderer!

So what's the deal with "quasi"? It's something you tack on to a hot term you really want to use, so that you don't have to take responsibility for using it. So I agree it's not idly deployed. It's the plausible deniability prefix. But I think Krugman was right to perceive that O'Reilly had called him a socialist.

UPDATE: Jeremy has a longish post in response, which winds its way around to talking about John Kerry's assertion that Bush's approach to managing the volunteer military is a "backdoor draft." I realized at some point in reading Jeremy's post that "quasi" can also be used to make an insult out of what is not an insult, for example, in referring to something as "quasi-humorous." Anyway, that doesn't refer to Jeremy's post, which is actually humorous, that refers to a letter I wrote a long time ago, criticizing someone for writing an article insulting someone else and meaning to escape responsibility by casting the article as a humor piece. Not wanting to give the article writer any credit, I called the piece "quasi-humorous." Now that I've made such a big deal out of "quasi," if I ever use "quasi" again, it's going to make me queasy.

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