December 31, 2014

The nudge and the prick.

Reading that last post out loud with Meade, we were talking about how the Democratic Party is trying to create anxiety by letting you know that the Party knows how much money they've gotten out of you this year.

It reminded me of that mailer I received a couple years ago from the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, showing my name and my home address and whether I'd voted in recent elections in a list with the same information about my close neighbors. That was really egregious guilt tripping, because neighbors were getting information about each other, so the organization was openly leveraging everyone's need to maintain esteem in the community.

But the new email from the Democratic Party relied on a similar psychological manipulation: My reputation is at stake. People whom I want to think well of me know that I'm not quite good enough, and they are showing me what I can do to fix that. I'd better vote this time so I don't look bad on the next mailer OR I can hit the $3/$10/$50 donate button.

Meade said this what they call "nudge." You know about the nudge. Cass Sunstein wrote a book on the subject "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness."

I said there needed to be a different word, because "nudge" seems to be a positive poke in the right direction, not the creation of anxiety around the thing that they don't want you to do.

That word is: PRICK.

"Prick" is the ideal word — quite aside from any indelicate intention to refer to male genitalia — because it means (OED): "To cause mental pain or discomfort to; to sting (esp. the conscience) with sorrow or remorse; to grieve, pain, torment" and "To poke at something as if to pierce it; to make a thrust or stab at." That is, "prick" is precisely the negative version of "nudge."

By the way, the "coarse slang" use of "prick" to mean the penis goes back to c1555:
c1555   Manifest Detection Diceplay sig. Biiiv,   To turne his pricke vpward, and cast a weauers knot on both his thumbs behind him....
The other "coarse slang" usage, which I particularly like in connection with my recommendation of a nudge/prick distinction is "A stupid, contemptible, or annoying person (esp. a man or boy)." That goes back to 1598:
1598   J. Florio Worlde of Wordes at Pinchino,   A pillicock, a primcock, a prick, a prettie lad, a gull, a noddie.
More recently:
1934   H. Miller Tropic of Cancer 110   Jesus, what I'd like is to find some rich cunt—like that cute little prick, Carl.
Miller doesn't mean he wants to find a "rich cunt" who resembles "that cute little prick, Carl." He means he wants to find "rich cunt" like the "rich cunt" found by "that cute little prick, Carl." Is Miller a sloppy writer or did he find that ambiguity amusing?

In any case, the word of the day is "prick." Don't let those manipulators of the masses say "nudge" when the word should be "prick." Observe the nudge/prick distinction.

ADDED: I just realized: If you like this blog post, you might want to consider doing your on-line shopping through The Althouse Amazon Portal.

50 comments:

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


So, ladies (and some 1% of men), does a prick's prick prick?

Meade said...

Alright, alright. I got your point.

Clyde said...

It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks

chickelit said...

"Nudge" has soft connotations; "prick" is sharp and focused. There are chemical analogies as well.

Curious George said...

"That is, "prick" is precisely the negative version of "nudge."

Nope.

T-off
abrade
agitate
badger
bedevil
beleaguer
bother
bug
chafe
distress
disturb
exasperate
gnaw
harass
harry
henpeck
irk
madden
miff
nag
needle
nettle
nudge
peeve
perturb
pester
plague
provoke
push button
ride
rile
trouble

Laslo Spatula said...

From Wiki: Nick Cave AND The Bible.

"Kicking Against the Pricks is the third album released by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. First released in 1986, the album is a collection of cover versions. The title refers to a passage from the King James Version of the Bible (Acts 9:5, 22:8b and 26:14), the first and second of which reads: "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (though the reference to "kick against the pricks" (or "goads") is omitted in many modern versions of the Bible, it is still referenced in Acts 26:14, when Jesus said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad."). The phrase refers to the futility of an ox kicking in irritation at the sharpened wooden rod, called a prick or goad, used by his driver when tilling soil."


I am Laslo.

Gahrie said...

Funny, I often think of the word prick when I am thinking of Democrats....

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


The grammarians note, "The word 'prick'
Is chiefly a synonym for 'dick'."
The law prof says, “Fudge!
It’s a mean form of ‘nudge’
And I’ll try hard to make that meme stick.”

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?".

Ann Althouse said...

@curious

What's needed is a word that works for the negative reinforcement, the manipulation that depends on creating anxiety.

We did also think of "needle."

I like "prick" better because it's not about annoying the other person but causing the prickling sense that seems to come from within, as in "pricking the conscience."

Ann Althouse said...

Words that don't appear in Sunstein's book:

prick
anxiety
needle

Manipulate appears once:

"The most important modification that must be made to a standard analysis of incentives is salience. Do the choosers actually notice the incentives they face?... An analysis of choice architecture systems must make similar adjustments. Of course, salience can be manipulated, and good choice architects can take steps to direct people’s attention to incentives."

Laslo Spatula said...

I thought my 8:49 post would 'nudge' Althouse to include the biblical reference in her post. It is impossible to 'prick' Althouse, post-wise.

I am Laslo.

traditionalguy said...

I like spear better than prick. The gentle nurse pricks your finger for a drop of your blood but the old Power Over All, that wants so bad to come back today, sells you under a spear.

And then there was gun powder and American Sniper get you at 1,000 yards.

chillblaine said...

@someone - brilliant limerick!

If the democrats want to wheedle some money out of the touchy-feelies, they should avoid the needle, and just say, "it's for the children!"

Henry said...

Just in cadence, "The Nudge and The Prick" recalls "The Squid and The Whale".

Perhaps we should recast the mascots of our political parties. Or, replace that sperm whale with an elephant.

Henry said...

"goad" would work.

Matthew Sablan said...

"We know."

khematite@aol.com said...

Cass Sunstein (the descendant of rabbis) spelled it "nudge," but he may have also been alluding to the Yiddish-derived "noodge."

http://www.wordsmith.org/words/noodge.html

A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

noodge or nudzh or nudge

PRONUNCIATION:
(nooj)
MEANING:
verb tr.: To pester; to nag.
verb intr.: To whine.
noun: One who pesters and annoys with persistent complaining.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Yiddish nudyen (to pester, bore), from Polish nudzic. The word developed a variant spelling 'nudge' under the influence of the English word 'nudge'. A cousin of this word is nudnik (a boring pest). First recorded use: 1960.

USAGE:
"My younger son wanted a dog as much as I didn't want one, and has wheedled and noodged me for a dog for about the past year."
Neil Steinberg; Notice: This is Not a Column About a Dog; Chicago Sun-Times; Sep 5, 2010.
"Rahm Emanuel is willing to be a relentless noodge to keep the herd moving in the right direction."
David Brooks; The Soft Side; The New York Times; Oct 5, 2010.

See more usage examples of noodge in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

Original Mike said...

"If you prick me, do I not ... leak?"

Bob Boyd said...

"because "nudge" seems to be a positive poke in the right direction"

Nudging is prodding with a bayonet dressed up to make the guys ordering the prodding feel better.

EDH said...

Is needle the plural of prick?

Amadeus 48 said...

Speaking of pricks and pricking, the last time I got a haircut at my barbershop in Chicago, my barberess "Sonia", a Russian emigree with a daughter at a seven sisters college, told me she had a guy from Moscow in the chair a couple of weeks ago. Talk turned to current life in Moscow, and the guy said, "I support Putin." She said, "Putin!? That nincompoop!! How can you support Putin!!?" The guy said again, " I support Putin." She said, "The walls have ears."
So that is goal towards which the pricks are pricking you.
I support Obama.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Well, yes, the community organizers who use those fundraising/shaming tactics are indeed pricks.

Rob said...

If you contracted for a ton of pricks and they delivered Rahm Emanuel, would that be substantial performance?

EDH said...

The Democrats actually have a two part, Mom and Dad electoral strategy.

When it's their money, the Democrats will prick you until you pony up.

When spending other people's money, it's the nipple poke, enticing you to clamp on and suck.

Krumhorn said...

My reputation is ay stake. People whom I want to think well of me

I don't mean to be a prick, but I want to nudge our hostess to edit that in a couple of places.

My reputation is at stake. People who I want to think we'll of me....

There. Fixed it.

- Krumhorn

Amadeus 48 said...

Re: Rahm
Have you seen the guy? He is teeny tiny, but he is all prick from the inside out. Partial delivery but first quality prick-itude.
I support Rahm.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

If the Democrat party pricks you(-r conscience), do you not bleed (campaign donations)?

Nettle is pretty good in this context, and keeps the n.

dbp said...

Like Laszlo, my mind went right to "Goad".

This is a term I had heard of from an early age but never really understood completely until I read, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson. He had a recalcitrant donkey, who would move only grudgingly even when being whipped and slapped. A native introduced Stevenson to the goad, which was a rod of wood with a needle embedded in one end. The depth of the needle is critical--too long and it will injure the animal, too short and it will not notice the jabs.

His goad transformed the beast from a burden into a beast of burden.

PB said...

Democrats. A party of pricks.

James Pawlak said...

I thought such went out with the Gestapo and MKVD.

Krumhorn said...

...well of me

- Krumhorn

Opinh Bombay said...

Contribution solicitation is not limited to the Ds.

I've been getting and ignoring the kind of pricks and nudges from the Rs too.

Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

A nudge is making a blog post about donation requests you constantly receive from the Dems while saying you "give nothing, ever, to any candidate, in any party"

Being a prick is burying in the comments the fact that you actually did donate to a Democrat in the past.

jacksonjay said...

Gawker outed the prick who nudged Smarter Lil Lena. Turns out he was a lefty asshole. Whoada thunk?

Funny thing is Gawker thinks they did Lena a favor.

KK Kraska said...

So how much did you send in Professor?

Anonymous said...

George Carlin pointed out that on TV you can prick your finger, but you can't finger your prick.

Ann Althouse said...

Snatch that pussy and put her in a box.

(Carlin.)

Martin said...

Are you afraid to call it by what it really is, intimidation?

Sebastian said...

Most nudgers are pricks.

Sissy Willis said...

Wonderful junk lore, Prof Althouse1 Etymology soothes the soul.

But "nudging" isn't as innocent as you seem to suggest, as Dr. Helen pointed out a couple of years back:

"I remember as I listened to him talk about 'libertarian paternalism' (isn't that an oxymoron?) that I felt sick to my stomach. In Sunstein's opinion, it seems that justifying the notion that people do not have free will gives license to bureaucrats and politicians to 'nudge' people in the direction that they desire them to go. A nudge is often not noticed until it becomes a shove and by then, it is often too late."

More at my old post Cass Sunstein's "libertarian paternalism": Czar is "crazy" without the "y"

mikee said...

It can't be paternalism if it is liberal, Sissy Willis.

It is more likely liberal totalitarianism.

A boot grinding atop your face forever need not be worn by a male. Females can oppress with the best of the patriarchy.

And hey, isn't the name of the Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie something? She likely approved these messages.

Does anyone really want to listen to Hillary tell us to eat our vegetables and send our money to DC for 4 years? I don't.

Don M said...

I never worry about the pricks with bayonets until I am running low on ammunition.

There are 4 things you need to fight with a bayonet.
1. Enemy is out of ammunition.
2. I am out of ammunition.
3. Enemy is willing to fight with a bayonet.
4. I am willing to fight with a bayonet.

I work at keeping enough ammunition.

hicks said...

Greenwald noticed early on that that "prick" Sunstein was not so gently "nudging" us all into the "Matrix" http://www.salon.com/2010/01/15/sunstein_2/

caplight45 said...

3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
Acts 9:3-6a KJV

Apparently Saul's (AKA Paul) conscience was "pricking" him for persecuting the Jewish Christians in the early days of the movement. Since a "prick" of his conscience did not accomplish God's intended result he made Saul an offer he couldn't refuse, a personal appearance of the risen and ascended Lord, Jesus Christ. We should all be so blessed.

Bob said...

I, too, thought of goad when I read this post, and like dbp I immediately remembered the Stevenson book. Just a little jab and they squeal and go right where you want them to.

Anonymous said...

Another ruined word. People who overuse prick are being an absolute dick about it.

-- Richard McEnroe

Bill Reeves said...

Only Pricks nudge.

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

"That was really egregious guilt tripping, because neighbors were getting information about each other, so the organization was openly leveraging everyone's need to maintain esteem in the community."

That might be the nicest way to put it...like a PR firm response.
It would be interesting to make a list of "publicly available" info and see what kind of direct campaigns could make use of this type of "leverage". "Your neighbor has/is ___, you have/are __ ...join us to ___"