August 30, 2015

Let's look at the word "patsy" — used yesterday by Donald Trump to describe the United States.

Context:
Donald Trump filled a speech Saturday with images of the United States on the world stage getting mistreated and taken advantage of — and declared that if he’s elected president in 2016, he won’t let that happen to America anymore....

“We’re tired of being, like, the patsy for everybody,” Trump told those gathered at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies in Nashville.
Is "patsy" an unusual word these days — an old-man word? I see a Tampa Tribune article from a couple weeks ago, "Reject patsy treaty with Iran." And in the NYT last April: "prosecutors were laying down a marker that Dzhokhar [Tsarnaev] was instead a willful young man who was nobody’s patsy." So I'm leaning toward seeing "patsy" as a word with present-day currency.

Perhaps you associate the word with Lee Harvey Oswald:



I associate the word with Patti Smith. Her song about Patty Hearst — a version of "Hey Joe" — ends with the lines: "I am no little pretty little rich girl/I am nobody's million dollar baby, I am nobody's patsy anymore/And I feel so free." Smith hits the word "patsy" hard, and there's no mistaking the intention to resonate with the name "Patty/Patti."

Hearing Trump use the word, I joked that he could be accused of sexism, using a woman's name to express ideas about gullibility and weakness. But from an etymological perspective, "patsy" is more likely related to the man's name Patrick. I got that from the (unlinkable OED) which adds "perhaps influenced by association with Italian pazzo crazy" and "Apparently spread in theatrical slang through the name of a character in a theatrical sketch."
1889   H. F. Reddall Fact, Fancy & Fable 404   A party of minstrels in Boston, about twenty years ago, had a performance... When the pedagogue asked in a rage, ‘Who did that?’, the boys would answer, ‘Patsy Bolivar!’... The phrase..spread beyond the limits of the minstrel performance, and when a scapegoat was alluded to, it was in the name of ‘Patsy Bolivar’..the one who is always blamed for everything.

27 comments:

Jason said...

I associate it with Warren Buffett, who said, "If you've been playing cards for 30 minutes straight and you don't know who the patsy is, YOU'RE THE PATSY!."

traditionalguy said...

Being a patsy is an entry level role in all of human life. The school of hard knocks is necessary separates the patsy from the veteran.

So get in there and get yourself initiated, all of you survivors. Uncle Sam needs you.

Bay Area Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laslo Spatula said...

Someone needs to mention Patsy Cline.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Lee Harvey Oswald was a pasty patsy, complexion-wise.

A quick Google did not turn up anything good on "Lee Harvey Oswald Pastry."

An enterprising baker should rectify that.

I am Laslo.

Larry J said...

Obama is the patsy. He's just dragging America down to his level of ineptitude.

Michael said...

Paddy is the usual Irish for Patrick.

James Oswald said...

"I joked that he could be accused of sexism, using a woman's name to express ideas about gullibility and weakness"

If you work for a college or university in America, you will be punished if you observe that woman are weak and tend to be gullible. We all (men and women) know that it's true, but it's called sexism. -isms carry alot of weight with Westerners. It's meant to silence and censor. I think that is Donald Trump's attraction. He's like a breath of fresh air in a stale, moldy, Progressive dungeon.

cubanbob said...

Let's look at the word "patsy" — used yesterday by Donald Trump to describe the United States.
Context:
Donald Trump filled a speech Saturday with images of the United States on the world stage getting mistreated and taken advantage of — and declared that if he’s elected president in 2016, he won’t let that happen to America anymore....

“We’re tired of being, like, the patsy for everybody,” Trump told those gathered at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies in Nashville."

The most recent and obvious example is the Iran deal. Now lets see how many members of Congress are patsies to Congress when the vote comes up.

Beldar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

Patty Hearst claimed that after her abduction she was held in a locked, pitch black closet for several weeks. She was periodically taken out and raped. There's no corroborating testimony, but she was violently kidnapped, trussed and thrown into a car trunk. I believe her story. Her criminal acts for fhe Symbionese Liberation Army were, thus, not a demonstration of her liberation but of the horrendous brutality and sexism that the Symbionese Liberation Army inflicted on her. Maybe Patti Smith is somebody's patsy.

Beldar said...

How, Professor Althouse, could you leave out the 1964 Jerry Lewis comedy entitled The Patsy?!? Synopsis:

"When a star comedian dies, his comedy team, decides to train a nobody to fill the shoes of the Star in a big TV show (a Patsy). But the man they choose, bellboy Stanley Belt, can't do anything right. The big TV show is getting closer, and Stanley gets worse all the time."

If they'd just remake this movie, the Stanley Belt character could end up working on a reality TV show for NBC after being laid off as a bellboy, errr, bell-person, errrrr, luggage-handler from the Trump casino in Atlantic City during Trump's last wave of bankruptcies.

chickelit said...

Althouse wrote: So I'm leaning toward seeing "patsy" as a word with present-day currency.

Just as you resurrected the old-fashioned term "stooge."
_____________________________

"perhaps influenced by association with Italian pazzo crazy"

I'll buy that. I've long associated "Patsy" with Crazy

Ann Althouse said...

@chickelit Good catch about the song.

@Beldar Gotta admit I didn't know the movie,

Beldar said...

Yes, only the French adequately appreciate Jerry Lewis.

richard mcenroe said...

I'll be impressed with Trump when he lapses into honesty and starts using the workd "marks"...

EMD said...

Oswald's curious choice of words makes me believe Jim Garrison's story a bit more.

Why not say you're innocent, why say you're a patsy?

sinz52 said...

The Google Ngram viewer shows that the term "patsy" is less popular today than in past decades, but it hasn't fallen out of favor entirely.

http://tinyurl.com/puqeddo

I doubt that anyone who heard Trump's statement failed to grasp its meaning. If nothing else, they could infer the meaning of the term from the context in which Trump used it.

Bricap said...

I'm not seeing any proof of this from a cursory search, but I wonder if patsy has any relation to patzer.

Achilles said...

The biggest patsy's so far have been anyone who voted for Republicans and Black people that voted for Democrats. Both groups have been getting the shaft since 88.

Drago said...

EMD: "Oswald's curious choice of words makes me believe Jim Garrison's story a bit more. Why not say you're innocent, why say you're a patsy?"

By definition, every communist/leftist sympathizer/activist is a patsy.

Except for those marxists who happen to find their "equal" status elevated just a bit above their "co-equals".

Beldar said...

As to why Oswald claimed he was a patsy:

The guilty, when caught, despite Miranda warnings, almost uniformly insist on saying remarkably stupid things.

Be grateful for this: It's the secret ingredient that keeps our criminal justice system from being a complete failure.

Quaestor said...

Patzer is probably related to the German patzen to bungle. A derived word is the Yiddish putz, a fool or easily deceived person, though lately non-Yiddish speakers use putz as a synonym for penis, which it isn't; so don't be a putz and say putz when you mean shmok, unless you're referring to ARM, then the correct word is schmeckel.

No dictionary I've seen gives an etymology for patsy. It's 20th century American English, so it's likely to be derived from Yiddish.

Quaestor said...

I suppose an idiot like Patti Smith, thought she was doing Patti Hurst honor by sing the lyric "I am nobody's million dollar baby, I am nobody's patsy anymore" instead of undermining her defense.

Quaestor said...

Please don't go anywhere near Jim Garrison, EMD. We get enough nonsensical commentary from the usual suspects to meet the quota.

Jeff Teal said...

Worrying about the use of the word is just an intelligentsia thing.Worrying about being the word is a real world thing

SF said...

Michael, Paddy is a more common nickname for Patrick, for sure, but the Irish definitely use Patsy as a male name. For instance the great old Irish flute player Patsy Hanley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjLcfnY8-gY