August 16, 2017

"I bethink me that you may have no objections to hear something of my whereabout and whatabout."

Wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1841. Did you ever think about the word "whatabout," corresponding to "whereabout"? We usually see "whereabout" in the plural — as in "I was right glad..to learn of your whereabouts and whatabouts."

I found both of those sentences in the OED as I was looking up "whataboutism" in the OED. "Whataboutism" isn't there — nor is "whataboutery" — but I'm seeing the word "whataboutism" a lot this week. It's in reference to Trump, of course. Trump famously referred to the "alt-left" when asked about the "alt-right," and there's some very heated criticism of that form of argument, which really is very annoying when you're criticizing someone and you don't want to hear that there's a corresponding — and smaller!!! — criticism against you.

One problem is that very few people are willing to give up that form of argument when the tables are turned. In other words, what about your whataboutism?

33 comments:

Mark said...

You read that sentence and it is "whatabout" that catches your attention?

I bethink me that you have missed the bigger "huh???"

I think we can guess the meaning by the context, but huh??? How do you get that from there?

Anonymous said...

"there's some very heated criticism of that form of argument, which really is very annoying when you're criticizing someone and you don't want to hear that there's a corresponding — and smaller!!! — criticism against you."

Actually, the thing that the Left hates is that there's a corresponding, and larger, criticism against them.

The antifa has been assaulting people for over a year, with the connivance of elected Democrat officials. As happened, again, this weekend.

The only difference is that this weekend their victims decided to raise the stakes.

AReasonableMan said...

What about all those business leader just walking away from a Republican president? Ain't that some shit?

tcrosse said...

I got your Tu Quoques right here.

Feste said...
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FullMoon said...

AReasonableMan repeated...

What about all those business leader just walking away from a Republican president? Ain't that some shit?
8/16/17, 5:10 PM

Yeah, thought they were all about helping create jobs for unemployed Americans. I was wrong. At least they will still be popular with their peer group.

Hagar said...

I see all these references to "for almost a year," etc., and wonder what they are talking about. The sons and daughters of our affluent ruling classes have been jetting around the world and staging riots to express their opposition to and rage against their parents for decades.

Feste said...

I like it! The “bethink me” part.

I’ve been musing on the difficulties of middle-active voices in English.

Methinks that “bethinkme” ought middle-voicedly become canon and fill a part of the gap.

I don’t know, but I’m unready with a conclusion about “smaller” counter-criticisms, because a “larger” value-surplus (on analogy to a cash surplus) will appear differently to those in a “smaller” value-deficit than a surplus might look to me (assuming - a $10.00 cash surplus looks differently larger or smaller to someone below the Federal Register definition of poverty than a $10.00 surplus looks to someone able to go liquid in a Gates-style $5 Billion gift), and framing this only hypothetically to test for a value-surplusage, and the young marchers seem to each other to suffer "smaller" and "larger" value-balances, yet much of this fuzzy size stuff is about unstated generosity or stinginess of inferences, I bethinkmeself ...

ADDED: on “smaller” and “larger” counter-criticisms, ala Nathaniel Hawthorn, I’m not sure whether it devolved into a protest, or a protect march regarding any future statuary for Melville, but rumor (maybe apocryphal) had it that Hawthorn did not like Melville (Melville being “larger” emotively), so perhaps we will yet see other artist-on-artist wars, destroying art for art’s sake, which is making me wonder if anyone has made a defense of preserving statuary on aesthetic grounds (nah, I don’t want to go there) ...

Left Bank of the Charles said...

So Trump is using Stalinist propaganda tactics, big surprise there.

Sebastian said...

Fuhgeddaboudit. If you try that whataboutism with the left, they'll find your whereabouts pretty quickly.

There Is No Alternative. Fall in line or else.

FullMoon said...
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Richard Dillman said...

What about that scarlet letter? What about that Goodman Brown? What about those seven gables? What about that wonderful
socialist commune, Brook Farm? What about that Old Manse? What about that Reverend Dimmesdale, founder of the first
candle lit Puritan shopping mall?

Richard Dillman said...

The whatabout argument is easy to use, and that is part of its appeal. It's a substitute for complex thought. In Minnesota there's a popular
term for people who use a similar argument. They are called "yah buters" who repeat " yah but, yah but, yah but " in response to others
opinions. Believe me, you don't want to be known as a yah buter.

rhhardin said...

-ward vs -wards, at least, is printed American English vs British. Toward, towards.

Look homeward, angel. American.

tcrosse said...
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Jay Elink said...

tcrosse said...
I got your Tu Quoques right here.

*****************

I wouldn't give two quatloos for your Tu Quoques.

traditionalguy said...

Playing with language is my favorite toy.

n.n said...

Roundabout. Again, and again, and again. Never again, right?

tim in vermont said...

If I were in a position where the only alternative I could offer to Donald Trump was Hillary Clinton, I would be pretty sick of "what about" too. That doesn't not mean that it is not a valid argument. There was no alternative to Donald Trump but a corrupt liar. Just because Democrats don't want to be reminded of their errors, they are responsible for Trump having come to pass. They had a primary, they knew she was corrupt and hated by half of America then. They should have chosen better. What about their poor judgement?

And "Yeah but" followed by a reasonable point is also reasonable. It's like complaining that logic is unacceptable. As in "Yeah but the only possible alternative to Trump after the Democrats had completed their primary was Hillary."

I don't blame them for being sick of being reminded of their complicity in this whole matter though.

wwww said...



Only 18 comments in this thread. Interesting! My whataboutism: "But what about when I emptied the dishwasher?" I try to avoid that type of behaviour with my spouse. This issue was originally about not doing the yard work, and it don't help nobody to change the subject.

People who do whatabout-isms in the political area are trying to convince you of their superior morality. "Oh yeah the neo-Nazis support Lee statues and chant against Jews but people in Seattle love Lenin!" That means people who work for Microsoft love Communism!!! Commie tech workers! They are all evil and love Stalin! They aren't trying to persuade you about the effectiveness of a policy or defend the morality of the original subject. There is never a surprise. You can predict their next statement. Unlike debates over policy discussions and moral issues, whatabout-ism are mostly boring.

wwww said...

What about their poor judgement?


What about it? I mean, why do you care about their poor judgement? They paid for it with the election. Whatabout-ism doesn't persuade me, and I bet it doesn't persuade a lot of people about policy or morality. Whatabout-ism rarely has anything to do with policy, and morality cannot be deflected by something else. I mean, you go to a priest, you cannot say, "I confess but whatabout...". Deflection doesn't work for discussions of morality.

CStanley said...

Its often a deflection but it can be a call for consistency. It's not wrong to insist that laws, rules, and opprobrium should be applied consistently and to call attention to times when people are not doing that.

Richard Dillman said...

Hawthorne again. And whatabout poor Hester Prynne, whose name rhymes with sin . She was exploited by the dysfunctional Puritans; she worked hard, engaged in deep introspection, and selflessly served her fellow Puritans. Thus she changed her title from adulteress to Angel. Yah but, Hawthorne was a misogynist, you say.

wwww said...

Hawthorne again. And whatabout poor Hester Prynne, whose name rhymes with sin

Pedantically, I dunno if that works. Hawthorne wrote in the 19th century and Prynne was a fictional character. The Puritans were pretty good at not having a double standard when it came to fornication. Men & women both punished for it.

I figured out a political whatabout-ism that I do. Whatabout the President wasting political capitol on topics that are more appropriate to a Honors High School American History Class? Or a High School Debate? "Washington & Lee: Both of similar value to the USA?" Or, "Washington & Lee, who was disloyal to the USA and who was loyal?" Or, Washington & Lee: Is it ok to rebel about King George but not against Lincoln?"

This is great stuff for a high school debate. Not so much for the President, who has a limited amount of of time and political capitol and is managing a North Korean situation/crisis. US Presidents have a limited amount of time in their first term to pursue their agenda.

Do people want Trump to pursue this agenda about statues and the Confederacy and discuss the historical significance of Lee, and suck all of the oxygen out of the air that might handle foreign policy/ taxes/ infrastructure/ other stuff? Maybe we should elect a Presidential Historian who runs historical debates, and let the Commander-In-Chief & Head-of-State do some Commander in Chiefing & Head-of-Stating?

Richard Dillman said...

Good points. I think all statues of General Sherman should be taken down because he arguably caused more unnecessary
death, destruction, and suffering than most Southern generals. What about Sherman? There's a large Sherman statue in D.C. and in Central Park.

Today the Interior Department issued a statement indicating that they will not remove any commemorative statues
at any of the Civil War battlefield sites.

Mom2Es said...

Oh, you mean like, "It's pathetic and un-American that a mob descended on Charlottesville in order to shut down political speech. Tsk Tsk."

"Yah, but whatabout the Nazi speaker!?"

Amadeus 48 said...

Bethinks me that DJT came out of the womb full of whataboutism. It is a way of life in New York, where diversionary tactics and counter-accusations are the warp and woof (especially the woof) of commercial activity. DJT has been changing the subject with counter-punches since he was a lad. I didn't do my homework? Well, you are a lousy teacher. What about that ice skating rink? How about that Trump Tower? Yeah, people tell me those steaks are the best! I get compliments on my ties every day.

Bethinks me that people who voted for Trump like the counter-punching, particularly with those smarty-pants reporters, although Fortune 500 CEOs make nice counter-punching bags, too. OK Mr. Merck CEO, go off and over-charge hard working Americans with your fake drugs and send jobs overseas--I don't need you, and it keeps me from having to kick you off the jobs council.

Whether this is good leadership by DJT is a dubious proposition. I have the same problem with him that I had with Obama--I don't think he understands the part of the job that is about bringing people together and forming majorities rather than driving wedges into the populace.

In others words, you may dislike Trump, but what about Obama?

tim in vermont said...

People who do whatabout-isms in the political area are trying to convince you of their superior morality.

No, but I can see why you might infer that. We are pointing out that we were faced with a binary choice. We are calling for consistency. I can see why, for example, if you spent months and months defending Hillary even though she took tens of millions of dollars from Russian cronies of Putin, and even though she served up a huge tranche of North American uranium production to him, and even though she came through on one of his major asks, killing Keystone XL personally. I can see why you wouldn't want this brought up when you now are spending months and months trying to tie Trump to some phantasmagoric theory about "collusion."

Given those facts, it's pretty clear why you would think that being asked to be morally consistent by somebody is a claim on their part to moral superiority.

tim in vermont said...

why do you care about their poor judgement? They paid for it with the election.

America is paying for their poor judgement. People shouldn't forget that. When somebody makes a claim to moral superiority, which is what the Democrats are doing with this whole Charlottesville thing, flaws in that claim aught to be pointed out. Here's a valid "whatabout": What about the fact that they guy who organized the march was an Obama supporter and Occupy member, and a lefty right up to the election in 2016, and only came out as a white supremacist in January of 2017. He had a quite public record, which I am sure he spent the past few days trying to wipe. Whatabout the fact that he wrote on his blog how much he admired provocateurs, and that he started his organization "Unite the Right" after the "resistance" was declared by Democrat leaders.

What about that?

Your reply, I am guessing is "No fair asking what about!"

tim in vermont said...

What about the fact that the vast vast vast majority of Trump voters are not white nationalists?
What about the fact that there are plenty of unsavory voters who vote Democrat?
What about the fact that AntiFa has a history of violently attacking Trump voters?

Better to disqualify all of those questions because they begin with "what about" than to answer them!

What about the fact that you can't make a sound judgment without all of the facts and the way to bring up more facts is to introduce the subject with "yeah but"?

There is no logical or philosophical reason that "what about" is an invalid technique. What about this one:

Pedant A : "There are no black swans."
Pedant B: "What about Australia?"

That's asserting a negative and disproving it with a counterexample. I learned about that in Logic 115 in college. Was I mis-taught?

Matthew Sablan said...

"Today the Interior Department issued a statement indicating that they will not remove any commemorative statues at any of the Civil War battlefield sites."

-- What will they do if someone decides these are our sites and our statues and decide to take them down on their own?

Matthew Sablan said...

"I see all these references to "for almost a year," etc., and wonder what they are talking about."

-- I limit to the "about a year" to ensure that we don't let the black bloc anti-world trade riots cross-contaminate with the political riots that started out as anti-Trump violence solely so that we don't have to deal with an overly broad argument.

William Chadwick said...

What about "liberals" being such tax-happy, power-tripping, coercion-addicted government sniffers and State fellators? Hah? What about that?