July 28, 2010

An idiomatic expression gone wrong... and Rush Limbaugh is mystified and amused.

On Monday, Rush was riffing on that Maureen Dowd column about The Sherrod Incident, which had this quote from Congressman John Lewis about Shirley Sherrod and her husband Charles:
“I’ve known these two individuals — the husband for more than 50 years and the wife for at least 35, 40 — and there’s not a racist hair on their heads or anyplace else on their bodies”....
Rush stresses the image:
... the media is holding Charles Sherrod up as a paragon of virtue. And John Lewis said that there's not a hair of racism on his head or anywhere else on his body. It's the first time I've ever heard anybody say that. There['s] not a shred of racism any hair on his head, or the rest of the body. What's Lewis thinking when he says that? 
He pauses to let us try to picture all the body hair Lewis has strangely conjured up for us to contemplate the possible racism of.

I can't explain everything about The Sherrod Incident, but I can explain Lewis's linguistic mishap. He began by mixing up 2 common idiomatic expressions: 1. not a [blank] bone in his body, and 2. wouldn't harm a hair on his/her head.

Having said "not a racist hair on their heads," Lewis must have realized that it didn't work the way it was supposed to. It didn't say there's absolutely nothing racist about them, because people have a lot more hair than just on their heads. By going with hair on their heads instead of bones, it's as if he were saying: in the part of them we can see, there's no racism. To avoid creating the implication that there was hidden racism, he had to vouch for the racism-free nature of the rest of their hair. So he tacked on "or anyplace else on their bodies."

This is a good time to remember that great piece of advice about language: "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." Use original images or avoid metaphor, and you won't get into weird troubles of the "anyplace else on their bodies" sort.


Also: Don't be a racist.


HKatz said...

To avoid creating the implication that there was hidden racism, he had to vouch for the racism-free nature of the rest of their hair. So he tacked on "or anyplace else on their bodies."

Isn't it what's on the inside that counts? So there also can't be any racial tendencies in their intestinal cilia, in their dendrites, in their tiniest capillaries, not even when you go down to the double helix of the DNA.

John Lewis clearly didn't cover any of that - so therefore there must still be hidden racism.

Ron said...

"His nose is free of the boogers of racism, and thus he knows these charges stink!"


Jack Okie said...

So Lewis refudiates the idea that the Sherrods are racists.

shoutingthomas said...

We need a time machine so that we can be transported back to the civil rights era of the 1960s.

Everybody wants to constantly replay it.

The good guys were completely good. The bad guys were completely bad. It was like a children's fairy tale come true.

The good guys back then must be the good guys today, too. They couldn't be sort-of good today, and maybe kind-of bad on some days.

So, if you were a Hero of the Civil Rights era, you've got an eternal pass. Right?

Meade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich B said...

This whole incident is pretty fishy. Why did the WH can her so quickly? What about the $13 million settlement SS was involved in with New Communities? Is she connected with the discrimination settlement with the black farmers, where there seems to be many more claimants than farmers? I smell a fish.

shoutingthomas said...

"... but isn't Mr. Lewis the same guy who's false accusations of Tea Party people hurling racial slurs and spittle on him in March became the false fact that is still being lovingly circulated throughout the race-hustling Leftosphere?

Well, yeah, but he's a Hero of the Civil Rights Movement.

So, you must be a racist. Somewhere down there in your chromosomes lurks a KKK marker or two.

Meade said...

I wish not to split idiomatic ends of ingrown hairs with any of the sticks and stones there in his bag o' bones of contention, but isn't Mr. Lewis the same guy whose false accusations of Tea Party people hurling racial slurs and spittle on him in March became the false fact that is still being lovingly circulated throughout the race-hustling Leftosphere?

k*thy said...

Lewis is no Yogi Berra.

Chase said...

Don't be a racist

Or, in the common hip hop vernacular

Don't be racist.

rhhardin said...

See Fowler on dead metaphors being stirred to life.

Carolyn said...

Yes, Thomas. If you're a hero of the civil rights era you deserve a permanent pass. Especially if your statements can be classified by observers as "Racial Scare Tactics" rather than "Racism".

Racial Scare Tactics are completely O.K. for heros of the civil rights era. John Lewis and the Sherrods deserve a permanent pass.

AlphaLiberal said...

"Don't be racist." But, make excuses for racists. Kind of sums up Ann's approach.

Now we have news that the indisputably racist Council of Concerned Citizens is active within the Tea Party.

So the NAACP claim that the Tea Party had racist elements, which they do not reject, is 100% true.

But conservatives defend racists and they will defend the CCC and attack anyone who points out CCC racism.

Big Mike said...

@Carolyn, I trust you are being sarcastic, because they aren't going to get one.

As the dreamer said, people should "...not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." And if judged by the content of their character then Charles Sherrod and John Lewis have been weighed on the scale and found wanting.

Big Mike said...

Speaking of people who, if "judged ... by the content of their character, would be weighed on the scale and found wanting, I was wondering when you'd join the thread, Alpha.

AlphaLiberal said...

You're the one bearing false witness, Mike. Smearing Ms Sherrod just for sport.

shoutingthomas said...


There's no point in messing around with a fuckhead like you.

Stick your sanctimonious halo up your ass.

You're an evil son-of-a-bitch.

c3 said...

Now we have news that the indisputably racist Council of Concerned Citizens is active within the Tea Party.

So an opinion piece who's main source is a Citizen's Council spokesman (I guess) who renders an opinion that "of course" the Tea Partiers are racist is the evidence?

Yea, my uncle, who knows about this stuff, was talking to a guy who feels Barack Obama is a Muslim. so yeah, our President is a terrorist.

Xmas said...


Nice hard hitting piece from that Miami Alt-Weekly. Alt-Weeklies are the last bastion of unbiased journalism, you know.

"Political organization attracts crazies" is not much of a story. An decentralized movement that's less than a year old is going to stir up the crazies. We should be thankful that the Tea Party is a small government movement, otherwise the neo-Marxist followers of Lyndon Larouche would be showing up.


edutcher said...

Charles Sherrod's exit from SNCC appears to be more power struggle than anything else. Both he and his wife are on video (hot air, gateway) saying some pretty vile things on the subject of race.

Those defending them are also the ones who defended Willie and called Dubya a war criminal. Context is everything.

PS I've heard some older black people use similar expressions to indicate an absolute certitude. It may be a Southern, rather than black, idiom.

Big Mike said...

@Alpha, I never smeared Charles Sherrod's wife. I came down hard on her NAACP audience, but they deserved it.

It's past time for them to recognize that their organization met its goals long ago, and that all they're doing these days is artificially keeping a struggle going that is forty years over with.

(And you're forgetting that I'm an atheist. I just don't proselytize my atheism as others unfortunately do.)

Sixty Grit said...

AL never met a liberal racist he didn't love.

bagoh20 said...

"Don't be a racist"

That requires a signed affidavit from a Black person and conservative Blacks don't count. Sorry Crack MC, another income stream ruined by conscience.

Carolyn said...

@Big Mike: I actually think that the audio of John Lewis at the link I posted is more inflammatory than his accusations against the Tea Party. But he's getting a pass from the Mainstream Media for both.

And I guess Shirley Sherrod is out on the campaign trail now. Wonder if she's still making blanket charges of racism against people she knows nothing about? Think she'll take that job as Deputy Director of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach for the USDA? Some outreach.

traditionalguy said...

Today's commenters are likely not natural born and raised Georgians. Lewis was a hero here in Atlanta in the 1960s. He has had a safe seat in Congress from Atlanta since then. He has never been a loon like Cynthia McKenney was in the other Atlanta safe District. So we are not angry at Lewis or at Sherrod for "bringing Federal dollars" to Atlanta over the last 40 years. All you righteous northerners need to take off the yoke of the Voting Rights Act on southern states before you blame us for Lewis and Sherrod cashing in on the old days.

Richard Dolan said...

Rules for living: "Use original images or avoid metaphors ... [and] don't be a racist."

While you're at it, use floss daily.

madawaskan said...
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madawaskan said...

This thread:

All My Puppets-

or would that be socks?

Ann's drawers are missing a village....or somethin'.

paul a'barge said...

You left out the part where it's been corroborated on video that the husband is a raging racist and so is Shirley.

Oh, and Cong. Lewis? A bald-faced liar.

Lucien said...

Cliched terms are non-starting disconnects that should be thrown under the bus.It's not enough to talk the talk if you can't walk like a duck where the rubber meets the road -- because if you think that sorry will feed the 800 pound elephant in the room you are barking up the wrong kettle of fish. Such things should be illegal - or is that . . . undocumented?

danielle said...

i also laughed when i read that bit of the MauDowd piece !

William said...

Racially charged analysis to follow: Wig makers prefer Asian hair, but it's fair to say that one of the things that caucasians are good at is growing hair. True it lacks the thickness of Asian hair, but that is more than made up for by the variety of colors and textures that are on display. Black people can take comfort in the superiority of their hamstrings, but for aesthetics I would give the nod to white hair....So would black people. They seem to spend an awful lot of time and money obsessing about their hair. I suppose in a society where blacks were culturally dominant whites would spend money on hamstring implants......Anyway it is interesting to note that John Lewis shaves his head bald and claims that the Sherrods don't have a racist hair on their body. He discusses racism not in terms of blacks' greatest strength but their greatest vulnerability and resentment.

Texan99 said...

The Sherrods don't have a racist tendon in their bodies.

Carolyn said...

Traditional Guy:

It is understandable that you are relieved that John Lewis is not like Cynthia McKinney. It is understandable that you are appreciative that his hero status helps him bring in some federal dollars. But when he does an ad in which he declares that his actions in facing dogs and water hoses during the civil rights era were less dangerous than the current prospect of electing a moderate Republican in a local election, and declares that the "your very life" may depend on that local election, he starts to sound almost as looney as McKinney.

Plus, he makes his own actions during the Civil Rights Era sound frivolous. He knows that Republicans are not THAT scary. He works with some in Washington. Should the media ignore the false and malicious nature of this ad just because of his hero status?

Joe said...

Isn't that manifestly untrue anyway? Didn't Sherrod admit she was racist and later realized that was stupid?

AST said...

He wasn't drafting a press release. He was speaking "off the cuff." This sort of thing happens all the time when you don't have time to reflect on how to say what you want to.

I thought it was unfair to mock President Bush for things like this or President Obama for his misstatement during the campaign that he'd been in 57 states and this is the same sort of thing.

Fen said...

*AlphaLibtard, cover your eyes*

Victor Davis Hanson: "Had Eric Holder not accused the nation of being cowards, had the president not appealed to voters in a recent video on the basis of race, had the president not intervened to stereotype the police in a minor matter at Harvard, had the Supreme Court justice not suggested racial background can make a better judge, had both the attorney general and the president not implied, before reading the bill, that 70% of Arizonans were intent on racially stereotyping, we would not quite be where we are — in which a bankrupt country in the middle of two wars is obsessed over the NAACP calling the tea party veritable racists and the dropping of charges against a fringe crack-pot group like the New Black Panther Party.

I say “quite,” because Mr. Obama’s campaign itself had always been characterized by one too many racial Macaca moments to suggest that the media image of a healer was quite right — from Rev. Wright, to typical white person, to the clingers of Pennsylvania, to Michelle’s various editorials on a downright mean country to never been before proud, etc.

...the truth is that the administration deliberately gambled that by playing identity politics they could galvanize the base vote (it worked when over 95% of African-Americans voted along racial lines) without offending centrist devotees. But they did not quite comprehend the ugly nature of the genie they had unleashed. And now we are reduced to suicidal calls from the left to appoint more administration officials solely on the basis of race, and to become even more overt in racial referencing."



*okay Alpha, its safe to uncover your eyes now*

Wen said...

We have friend with the same cliche-mangling problem as Congressman Lewis. As a result our lives have been enriched by gems like:

"Well enough is alone!"
"That really gets beside my goat!"

Always good for a laugh.

WV:tenewa. Betta than nine goata.

Gene said...

AlphaLiberal: Now we have news that the indisputably racist Council of Concerned Citizens is active within the Tea Party.

All organizations (especially wide open ones) have people who judge others by the color of their skins. But since the NAACP's entire history involves judging people by skin color the percentage of racists in that group compared to that of the Tea Party is over-whelming.

What elected official in the Tea Party claims he was publicly and repeatedly called racist epithets like John Lewis does yet no tape recorder or mini-cam could pick them up?

Lewis, I suspect, is such a bigot he hears a disparaging tone and immediately intuits the n-word. Did I mention he was a bigot? I meant to say a fraud and a bigot and meandering tool.

Blue@9 said...

I have a racist hair on my big toe.

I pluck it regularly.

HDHouse said...

We haven't considered that Rush is crazy..that might be a factor.

M. Simon said...

At Hair Of The Body I cover mixed metaphors and typical dim witted semi-on-topic blog comments in two lines and two links.

Needless to say, despite my unrequited love, Althouse gets a link.

M. Simon said...

Blogger Blue@9 said...

I have a racist hair on my big toe.

I pluck it regularly.

What key is it tuned to?

Revenant said...

Now we have news that the indisputably racist Council of Concerned Citizens is active within the Tea Party.

Heh. That's the best you could come up with? The talking points are pretty weak this month.

Fen said...

Prob because JournoList is busy regrouping into its next incarnation.

Buts its always fun to see what the Libtards here come up with when left to their own meager devices.

HDHouse said...


If the "libtards" are so feeble and limited then I'm sure you can come up with a reason why they were elected and your guys weren't.

We can replace you guys, the party of "no" with the slogan "Vote Republican - the Party of Doh"

Rush can give the inspirational part of the rebranding ceremony and Sarah Palin can provide the intellectual basis for the transformation.

Fen said...

If the "libtards" are so feeble and limited then I'm sure you can come up with a reason why they were elected..

Thats easy: you guys are ignorant, stupid, corrupt, and easily misled. And you fall prey too easily to appeals to emotion.

see: "smart" diplomacy as just one of many examples.

Also, the media is clearly in the Dems corner. They distort, censor by omission, etc.

Its amazing there are any conservative in Congress to begin with.

Also, you're racist. You routinely play the race-card, falsely accuse innocents of racism to score political points, etc.

The only reason you guys voted for Obama is because of his skin color. He's your DHOTUS.

HDHouse said...


thank you for clearing that up. The simplistic nature of your answers is both an inspiration and an enlightenment.

HDHouse said...

Fen said...
"Its amazing there are any conservative in Congress to begin with."

Well we agree on that part...

Fen said...

Libtard: The simplistic nature of your answers -

Deliberately so. Everything has to be dumbed down into a bumper sticker slogan for your kind.

nobody said...

Dave Chappelle said it well:

"Bu you can't help it, If you an American, you a racist. We brought up from the beginning to think in generalizations. We never look at the individual, we rarely look at individual[s]."


nobody said...

Meade: "isn't Mr. Lewis the same guy whose false accusations of Tea Party people hurling racial slurs and spittle on him in March became the false fact that is still being lovingly circulated throughout the race-hustling Leftosphere?"

From the thread about this (https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=6329595&postID=1279507822638827101):

Ann: "I want to see Lewis go before a camera and tell me straight out that it happened. Did he do that? No. Why not? Because it didn't happen."

SMGalbraith: "I thought I had read that Lewis stated that he heard it. I'll believe (future tense) Lewis when he states is. Lewis went through too much - suffered to much - to, I believe, make it up."

Ann: "Sorry, I want to see Lewis spell it out. Put his honor and credibility behind it. If he doesn't do it, I will not change my presumption that the accusation is false."

John: "Why doesn't he come out and say "they called me this"? He never does that. What has he heard before in the 60s? What exactly was said to him? He never says. Sorry, but even by its own terms that doesn't cut it."

David: "I initially gave this story some credence because John Lewis was involved. Then I learned that the "statement" attributed to Lewis was put out by some staffer, and that Lewis is not really willing to back it up with a personal statement under questioning.

"That was all I needed to know."

Jurek said...

I grew up in a country where about 20% of students were admitted through the so-called “rector’s list” (rector is a president of a university) and I witnessed a lot of favoritism and corruption there. After immigrating to US I swore I will treat all my students equally. The first time a black student approached me about losing a scholarship due to a low grade in my course, I did not give him a full force of what I could do. Instead, I sent him to one of his own (our Black Cultural Center has its own tutors). It turns out his own did not do anything for him, so I started to think about the whole episode and it occurred to me that it is not the issue of blacks vs whites, it is the issue of those who have and those who have not. The student did not lose his scholarship and now I give the full force of what I can do to anybody with a scholarship they can lose because of low grades in my courses.