October 24, 2019

Troubled by Trump's use of the phrase "human scum," I decided to trace its usage, over the years...

... in the NYT archive. Not "scum" alone, but "human scum," the 2 words together, which struck me as particularly ugly. I searched, and I read every appearance of "human scum" in the NYT. I summarize everything below, but I'll give you the short answer here. The epithet rarely appeared until 2003, when it began coming up repeatedly in statements from the North Korean government. The first person called "human scum" by the North Koreans was John Bolton. Bolton — who was undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003— became Trump's national security adviser and was ousted last month.

But let's go back to the beginning. The oldest use of "human scum" in the NYT came in the July 23, 1897 issue:

Stunningly racist. I learned a new word: Kanaka. And I learned that my not knowing the word reveals my unfamiliarity with the book "Two Years Before the Mast."

The phrase, "human scum," does not appear again in the NYT until June 13, 1920, in "A Fearless and Revealing Analysis of Conditions and Personalities in the Bolshevist Regime by a Man Who Has Been a Prisoner of Trotzky's."

On August 25, 1931, the phrase came up in a long article about rampant crime in NYC.

On March 12, 1938, the phrase came up in an article about a trial in the Soviet Union. "This is a stinking pile of human scum, who stop at nothing," the prosecutor argued.

All of World War II passes before "human scum" appears again in the NYT. Then, on December 2, 1945, we get "'So What?' Say the Germans of Nuremberg; Despite the evidence, their attitude toward the war crimes trial is one of indifference":

9 more years pass, and we get another translation from a Soviet trial: "Accursed vipers, foul dogs, a stinking heap of human scum."

In 1958, we get a bad review of the James Jones novel, "Some Came Running." Some of the characters —  "bar flies and amateur prostitutes" — are "human scum." (I guess "amateur prostitutes" is like "jumbo shrimp.")

In 1960, "ARGENTINA COOLS TO FORMER NAZIS; Anger on Eichmann Seizure Turning to Criticism Over Protecting 'Criminals.'" The Argentine newspaper referred to the Nazis who had taken refuge there as "human scum."

In 1968, there is "MEMPHIS STRIKE SEEN AS U.S. TEST; Rustin Calls It First Step of New Stage in Rights Drive":

More than 2 decades pass before we see this ugly phrase again in the pages of the NYT. It's in a review of the 1993 movie, "Falling Down":

There's a second 1993 article, "Dear Camcorder Diary: Memoirs From All Over," a review of a Showtime special called "Self-Portraits":

In April 2001, there's a brief comic item on how to "Ruin Someone Else's Movie-Going Experience at a 'Star Trek' Film." You're advised to go as a character and say something like, "Yes, I am Commander K'Ching, you human scum! What do you want!"

If you thought the phrase would live on only in entertainment and foolery. You are so wrong. The next phase in the life of the epithet is all about North Korea:

In 2003, there's a North Korean insult directed at John R. Bolton (who was undersecretary of state for arms control):
Characterizing Mr. Bolton as "human scum and bloodsucker," the spokesman said his government had "decided not to deal with him or consider him as an official of the U.S. administration."
I'm seeing that insult repeated in 4 more articles. Then, in a 5th article, "Latest Threats May Mean North Korea Wants to Talk" (November 19, 2008), we see:
North Korea... called [South Korean President Lee Myung-bak] “despicable human scum,” an epithet it had previously reserved for John R. Bolton, Washington’s hard-line strategist during Mr. Bush’s first term.
There's a 2010 article in which North Korea calls someone else "human scum" (a defector, Hwang Jang-yop).

There's a 2011 article, "Reading Between North Korea's Lines":
U.S. forces based in the South and South Korean politicians, especially President Lee Myung-bak, come in for especially florid disdain: They are “swollen-headed traitors,” “half-baked extra-large Philistines,” “wicked running dogs” and “loud-mouthed gangsters.”

Former President George W. Bush of the United States was regularly called “vile human scum.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been derided as “the little schoolgirl.”

“The language is unbelievably rude and tough, far more aggressive than the Soviet Union under Stalin, and far superior to Mao’s China,” said Andrei Lankov, a leading North Korea analyst and a history professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. “North Korea, they’re the world champions.”

Official public language in North Korea is “a rhetoric of superlatives, of extreme and unflagging hyperbole, and propaganda is delivered in a loud, emotional style,” said Brian R. Myers, a professor of international studies at Dongseo University in Pusan and author of “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters.”
In 2012:
North Korea always bristles at any outside criticism of its leadership and often counters with sharp language. It has labeled various American and South Korean leaders “human scum,” “war maniacs” and “running dogs.” It once called Mrs. Clinton a “minister in a skirt.”
Later that year:
North Korea news media have frequently referred to the defectors as “traitors” and “human scum.”
In 2013:
The country [North Korea]... deemed various senior American and South Korean officials to be “human scum,” “war maniacs” and “running dogs.”
Again, in 2013:
North Korea denies keeping political prisoners or violating human rights. In the past week, it has called the commission’s work “an interference with internal affairs” and “slander and provocation.” It also called North Korean witnesses before the commission “human scum” who were manipulated by the South Korean authorities.
Next, "North Korean Execution Raises Unease in China" (December 13, 2013):
K.C.N.A. called Mr. Jang “a traitor to the nation for all ages” and said he “perpetrated anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts” in an effort to overthrow North Korea’s leadership. The state news outlet called him “despicable human scum” and “worse than a dog.”
3 days later:
[South Korean] President Park Geun-hye... warned that the North might attempt armed provocations after the recent purge and execution of Jang Song-thaek, who was believed to have been the North’s second most powerful official....

The court verdict condemned Mr. Jang as “human scum” and “worse than a dog,” citing among many other offenses his purported failure to applaud as enthusiastically as others did during a 2010 meeting at which Mr. Kim was elected to a party post.
A break from all that North Korean use of the term finally comes with this South Korean use (in 2014):
One of the angry comments received by the Defense Ministry was from a man who said he was considering helping his son avoid military service with surgery to deliberately damage a knee or other body part and make him medically unfit, as some young men have been known to do. That would be far better, the commenter said, than “having him killed like a dog by human scum in the military.”
Later that year, we're back to North Korea, with "United Nations Security Council Examines North Korea’s Human Rights":
The report was based on interviews with North Korean exiles, whom the North Koreans described in a letter to the United Nations as “human scum.”
In 2015, "‘North Korea Confidential’ and ‘North Korea Undercover’":
On Dec. 12, 2013, two years after Kim took office, Jang, 67, was probably executed by firing squad, his death described in the official media as befitting “human scum,” a man who was “worse than a dog.” There were rumors that he was actually thrown to a pack of attack dogs; these were later discounted....
There's a repeated reference to the insult against Jang in 2016. Later that year, North Korea called a defecting diplomat "human scum." Another article repeats that insult.

In 2017, North Korea speaks of a "hideous terrorist group" sent by South Korea and the C.I.A. to kill Kim Jong Un. It calls the would-be assassin "human scum." Another article that year says:
North Korea used to call defectors “traitors” or “human scum.”

But since the North’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, took power in 2011, at least 25 defectors have resurfaced, claiming that they returned voluntarily, fed up with life in the South.
In 2018, there's "North Korea Signals It Might Hold Military Parade on Eve of Olympics":
North Korea... lashed out, calling the Games’ conservative critics in the South “human scum” and accusing them of “unpardonable atrocities.”
Later that year, we get a reminder that John Bolton — now chosen to be national security adviser — was once called "a human scum and bloodsucker" by the North Koreans. Two other 2018 articles about Bolton repeat the old insult.

There's another article about a North Korean defector:
North Korea’s state media called Mr. Thae “human scum” and said he was hurling “mud at the dignity of the supreme leadership” of the North.
The insult to Thae appears again.

Finally, in October 2018, we get out of Korea, with "Yuki Kawauchi Is Distance Running’s Elite Oddball," dateline, Kuki, Japan:
In high school, he broke down with shin splints and sore knees from overtraining. Dispirited, left to carry bags and water for his teammates, he told Runner’s World magazine that he wrote in his diary, “What am I? Human scum?”
One disconsolate teenager questions his worth. So refreshing!

And then it's back to John Bolton, with "John Bolton Says North Korean Missile Tests Violated U.N. Resolutions" (May 24, 2019):
“Having many years ago been called ‘human scum’ by the North Koreans,” Mr. Bolton said, “I take much of what they say with a grain of salt.”
And then, there was "North Korean Envoy Hails Bolton’s Ouster and Trump’s Talk of a New Approach" (September 20, 2019):
North Korea, which has called Mr. Bolton a “war maniac” and “human scum” at various times, was particularly incensed when he championed the so-called Libyan model of forcing North Korea to quickly give up and ship out its nuclear arsenal before granting the country any rewards.
And that's the last one — I counted them all! — before we get to yesterday's usage by the President of the United States. From "Republican Lawmakers Storm Hearing Room, Disrupt Trump Impeachment Inquiry":
Trump on Monday told reporters that "Republicans have to get tougher and fight" the impeachment, saying the Democrats are "vicious and they stick together."

Trump also criticized his Republican critics on Twitter, writing: "The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum!"
Trump's tweet — "They are human scum" — is repeated in "GOP Stands by Trump, Gingerly, After Diplomat's Testimony" and the editorial, "Why Did Republicans Storm the Capitol? They’re Running Out of Options/As more testimony is disclosed, it becomes clearer that President Trump’s only defense against impeachment is to distract from the facts."

I don't know where Trump got "human scum." Maybe it's common New York street talk (though it's only evinced in the NYT in 1931). But it's hard not to think he picked it up from all that nasty North Korean propaganda. I didn't like his using the term, which feels so ugly and dehumanizing. But now that I see it as North Korean government talk, I like it even less.

Do you think of "human scum" as meaning scum that is human or scum that came from a human? I see the OED defines "scum" as "A film or layer of floating matter formed upon the surface of a liquid in a state of fermentation, ebullition, etc.; hence, a film formed upon stagnant, foul water, etc. More generally, any undesirable surface layer or deposit, usually but not necessarily on a liquid." And: "coarse slang (chiefly U.S.). Semen." What then is the effect of adding "human"? To me, it makes it seem more as though you are referring to semen.

I do think, however, that one might choose to say "scum" (or "human scum") to avoid saying "shit." And I see that Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice just called Lindsey Graham a "piece of shit": "He's been a piece of shit. I said it. I said it, damn it. He's a piece of shit."

Should Trump temper his remarks when Susan Rice is saying something worse? Should Trump switch to "piece of shit" since "human scum" is so North Korean?


MadisonMan said...

Really interesting that it's so North Korean-y. I think this proves Trump is a puppet of Pyongyang, obviously!!

readering said...

So Tommy Vietor used p-o-s with reference to Senator Graham in interview with Rice, and she picked up on his use.

n.n said...

Deplorable, but it is not a diversitist (e.g. racist, sexist) statement, or maybe it is, depending on the canvas size, shades, and principles, as it is qualified with "human", which is not "people", or even "person", and certainly not "fetus", but a universal characterization applied in a context as a character judgment.

daskol said...

I've never heard it before, and I think the more common epithet around here is "scumbag," which is where I imagine it began in Trump's mind.

bagoh20 said...

It's the stuff they skim off the top of the vats of Soylent Green at the cannery.

Bill Peschel said...

The first use of "human scum," at least in newspapers, appears in an 1863 newspaper, quoting Jefferson Davis, who "In a recent speech at Jackson, Mississippi, told the South they were superior to the North. That the men of the North were the descendants of the human scum that Cromwell scraped from the bogs and marshes of England."

So, no different really than anything Hillary or the Democratic Party have said recently.

Marcus said...

An "amateur prostitute" is any woman who has sex in return for anything of value, other than money. Flowers, dinner, jewelry, for instance.


I haven't led a sheltered life. I've heard "scumbag" all my life, so the idea that the president got it from North Korea is quite a stretch. BTW, I agree with him.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

Trump is rather old fashioned and nerdy with his insults. He could do better.

I've never liked the term "never trumper" either.
Trump puts people off, and makes some people nuts. at this point - get over it and move on.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

pond scum would be fun

Bay Area Guy said...

In the 40's and 50's --at least according to my Uncles in New York -- the slang term "Scumbag" meant condom. A bag for scum. They were cops, so "Scumbag" also served as their general term of invective for criminals. "Hey, Scumbag, put your hands where I can see 'em!"

Ergo, the word "Scum" most likely meant "cum."

Ann Althouse said...

"The first use of "human scum," at least in newspapers, appears in an 1863 newspaper, quoting Jefferson Davis, who "In a recent speech at Jackson, Mississippi, told the South they were superior to the North. That the men of the North were the descendants of the human scum that Cromwell scraped from the bogs and marshes of England.""


The "scraped from the bogs" specification avoids the connotation of semen.

Earnest Prole said...

Why it seems like only yesterday we were debating Teresa Heinz Kerry’s use of the word scumbag. According to the Times, “Though it's now usually just an all-purpose derogation, a cop-show synonym for "dirtbag," "creep" or "lowlife," scumbag originally meant "condom" (to many, "used condom" - scum being slang for semen).”

FullMoon said...

Interesting. Is it the sound of the word, or the definition?

Personally, I think it rates a couple of notches below 'feckless cunt' a favorite of the left/elite while projecting their personalities upon Ivanka Trump.

narciso said...

well its a sign of honor, to be called that by the coprophagic north Korean regime,

n.n said...

scum (n.)

early 14c. (implied in scummer "shallow ladle for removing scum"), from Middle Dutch schume "foam, froth," from Proto-Germanic *skuma- (source also of Old Norse skum, Old High German scum, German Schaum "foam, froth"), perhaps from PIE root *(s)keu- "to cover, conceal" on the notion of "that which covers the water."

Sense deteriorated from "thin layer atop liquid" to "film of dirt," then just "dirt." Meaning "lowest class of humanity" is 1580s; scum of the Earth is from 1712. Adopted in Romanic (Old French escume, Modern French écume, Spanish escuma, Italian schiuma).

-- etymonline.com

Traitors are universally characterized as the lowest form of scum. As there is a semantic progression, the use of "human scum" is redundant.

traitor (n.)

c. 1200, "one who betrays a trust or duty," from Old French traitor, traitre "traitor, villain, deceiver" (11c., Modern French traître), from Latin traditor "betrayer," literally "one who delivers," agent noun from stem of tradere "deliver, hand over," from trans- "over" (see trans-) + dare "to give" (from PIE root *do- "to give"). Originally usually with a suggestion of Judas Iscariot; especially of one false to his allegiance to a sovereign, government, or cause from late 15c. Compare treason, tradition


FullMoon said...

I've never heard it before, and I think the more common epithet around here is "scumbag," which is where I imagine it began in Trump's mind.

Was that word not adapted from cumbag when R rated movies were edited for TV viewing?

Kinda like "freaking" a substitute for "fucking"?

Reminds me of an old lady babysitter I had once who gave me a smack upside the head when I said "heck". She assumed I meant hell. Old school religious nut, I guess. Her name was Ida, probably a freakin' Nazi

dustbunny said...

I remember when Gloria Steinem called Sally Quinn ‘a water bug on the surface of life’,. Is it more or less insulting to call someone an insect or scum?

FullMoon said...

“Though it's now usually just an all-purpose derogation, a cop-show synonym for "dirtbag," "creep" or "lowlife," scumbag originally meant "condom"

Or cheap whore, generally leftist/progressive..

Phidippus said...

The canonical link is here: http://nk-news.net/extras/insult_generator.php

A direct quote from about my third hit on the button: "You imperialist human scum!"

You gotta hand it to the Norks, they really know how to insult a guy. Trump is an amatoor by comparison.

Everybody's good at something, I'm told.

Phidippus said...

FullMoon said: "Personally, I think it rates a couple of notches below 'feckless cunt' a favorite of the left/elite while projecting their personalities upon Ivanka Trump."

Agreed. And "feckless" is only one vowel off from "fuckless", which manages to be both wanton and repellant at the same time.

Those lefties have been hitting the NK Insult Generator, and it shows.

Fernandinande said...

A fascinating ngram

chuck said...

I prefer Lumpenproletariat myself.

Big Mike said...

Do you think of "human scum" as meaning scum that is human or scum that came from a human?

It means humans who are the very lowest dregs if humanity. People who, if they were maggots, no self-respecting rock would allow them to slither underneath it. Except they’d have to improve themselves drastically to become maggots.

I get that Trump is highly frustrated but — as I wrote at the time — I wish that he’d spent more time with a thesaurus before he hit the “Enter” key. Still, what is the upside for Republican Never-Trumpers? Do they think they will get anything besides perhaps a few extra invitations to cocktail parties in trendy DC neighborhoods?

Still, next to Harry Truman saying “Let’s hang a few traitors,” Trump’s remark is pretty mild.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

Mitt Romney is pond scum. But very dignified pond scum. With binders of women.

narciso said...

the examiner might be in that category,


rcocean said...

I'm not up on my Hawaiian History, but I believe the letter writer is attacking the "Human Scum" and "white mongrels" in Hawaii that were trying to overthrow the Hawaiian Queen and establish a Hawaiian Republic for the benefit of Big Business and the Republican Party. Its not quite the racist rant you might think.

Bob said...

Two Years Before the Mast is well worth reading, and should be available as a free Kindle download from Amazon. It's fascinating for its account of pre-Gold Rush California, when the main purpose in ships such as Dana's going there was to collect cattle hides, to be brought back around Cape Horn to New England to be made into shoes and belts for early factory equipment. Kanaka wasn't originally a racial slur, but was in fact the word that native Hawaiians used to describe themselves. In the egalitarian world of the foremast sailor the Hawaiian was just another shipmate; Queequeg in Moby Dick was another such.

Ken B said...

The most interesting reference you cite is the 1938 show trial. Was the prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky? He was lead prosecutor in many such trials. I collect references to Vyshinsky. It struck me when I first saw your headline that it struck me as very much a Stalinist show trial kind of phrase. So it fits the Norks.

gbarto said...

I'd say human scum is the stuff that floats on the top at the edges of the shallower end of the gene pool. It's plainly referring to humans as scum, not referring to scum emanating from humans. That said, scum bag plainly suggests being filled with scum. Is it really better or worse to be scum or to be a container full of scum? That said, "scum bag" would have sounded better.

Ken B said...

You are out of step with your commentariat. That thread is full of Trumpkins swooning; only a very few of us objected to his remark. And were of course insulted for it!

Marty said...

Calling someone, a misogynist, a Russian agent, a traitor, a rapist, racist, sexist, stupid, a nazi, a white supremacist, incompetent, dishonest, criminal isn't troubling, but "pond scum" is? Please, give it a rest, all you pearl-clutching weenies. If you are over ten years old you've heard far worse than pond scum many times over, probably in your own home but certainly in public or at your job.

Michael K said...

Interesting that the term "Bugmen" seems more appropriate for the denizens of the left who yearn for the degradation so implied by Communism/socialism.

The book, "Bronze Age Mindset, is a good introduction.

Not pond scum but a good preview of coming attractions.

tim maguire said...

Maybe all the good insults are overused into inconsequence. Trump reached for human scum because he knew it would be catchy, memorable. It should trigger a good solid outrage.

Lazarus said...

"Tory scum" is a common rebuke on the British left. There was even a controversy this summer about whether to ban a song "Kill Tory Scum [Before they Kill You]" by a band with the charming name "Kildren."

Even if it’s yer Dad or yer Mum
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum
Even if it’s yer pal or yer chum
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum
If politics leaves you numb
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum
Murder them all to the beat of the drum
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum
Tory genocide is the perfect outcome
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum
We pay by the head, raise your income
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum
Kids all be doing it, you will succumb
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum
It’s the solution – we’ll overcome
Kill tory scum, kill tory scum

Well, it at least it rhymes.

It's hard to know what to take seriously these day. Trump is sort of still the reality show TV character that he was decade or two and this is part of the performance.

RobinGoodfellow said...

He should have said, “Watch out for them, for you will not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy!”

rhhardin said...

which struck me as particularly ugly

An Althouse minefield effect. It sounds fine to me. The question is context, what is it used for, where is it going.

All it does on its face is announce itself as a metaphor.

Ken B said...

Per gbarto, pond scum obviously refers to ponds which are scum, not scum from ponds.

Yancey Ward said...

Ken B,

We reached the point some time ago where it was obvious that continuing to play by a different set of rules was just stupid. Decorum is pointless in certain situations, though I would have preferred Trump call them fopdoodles or douchebags. Calling them human scum has the connotation that they may actually be effective in a divisive way- they aren't.

rhhardin said...

USMC. "Human scum" will show up in boot camp a lot.

Narayanan said...

I'm curious about NYTimes own usage (given their Soviet sympathy and correspondent assignment) : which are instances of translation? What word was used in Russian or German.

North Korean must have used translation thesaurus for their word choice. Dotard comes to mind - maybe even Trump looked it up!

Big Mike said...

... only a very few of us objected to his remark. And were of course insulted for it!

As indeed you should be.

Narayanan said...

Two kinds: scum that you skim and scum that you scrape off after swamp has been drained.

Is Trump hinting?

Dossier started life as Republican oppo-research against Trump!

tim in vermont said...

The never Trumper Republicans are scum because they know this is all bullshit, but they are going along anyway, maybe because Romney, for example, has a kid collecting Burisma graft. With the Democrats, there is always the remote possiblity that they believe this bullshit.

Drago said...

Ken B: "It struck me when I first saw your headline that it struck me as very much a Stalinist show trial kind of phrase. So it fits the Norks."

Actually, it fits the democrats and their enablers.

tim in vermont said...

You know what gives an interesting insight into the Trump phenomenon, if you don’t look for the parallels to be too precise, but in grand sweeps? The documentary on Amazon “The Guilded Age” and it’s description of prairie populism and the way that the moneyed classes controlled the economy for their own benefit and to the detriment of the America working class.

Michael K said...

That thread is full of Trumpkins swooning; only a very few of us objected to his remark. And were of course insulted for it!

Another lefty dropping .Sniff. How does it smell?

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

Witchcraft scum exploiting the dumb
Turning children into punks and slaves
Whose heroes and healers are rich dope dealers
Who should be put in their graves
Tell the truth now..

Friendo said...

When did Ken B go off the deep end? Jeezus.

Leora said...

I thought of Star Wars where the bar is a "hive of scum and villainy". The use of scum to mean lowlifes seems pretty routine to me. Human Scum does seema little odd.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

Mariel Boatlift--
refugees called the scum-- 'escoria', —of society by the Cuban government

maybe Trump is yanking Bolton's chain with an insult he is familiar with, since there is a possibility the 'whistleleaker(s)' may have included Bolton

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

Yancey @ 7:14

Bada bing

Sebastian said...

Sure, a culture war is raging, so let's consult the NYT archive.

tim in vermont said...

Ken B is mad because we don’t want to send our kids to fight wars of aggression in the Middle East.

tim in vermont said...

It’s clear from the context that he means the political class and writers, BTW. Not voters.

tim in vermont said...

“Dossier started life as Republican oppo-research against Trump!”

Democrat lie

Grant said...

I concur with Bob above, that “Two Years Before the Mast” is an excellent book. Its description of life on a sailing vessel is interesting enough, but what it reveals about California before the Gold Rush is really fascinating. The Hawaiians at Long Beach are among the best people he meets.

Limited blogger said...

Seems like Trump said it in anger.

Disloyalty seems to piss him off.

n.n said...

Nazis, North Korea, nyt, Russia, Trump rhetoric

Oh, the irony of style guidelines, NYT is sandwiched between Nazis, North Korea on the left, and (post Soviet) Russia, Trump rhetoric on the right.

Steven said...

"Human scum" is in common usage in New York (also, CT and NJ). The idea that it has some North Korean connection seems like a particularly silly conspiracy theory.

Ken B said...

Different rules is fine, but dumb isn’t. I mean, look at the evidence on this blog. The tweet has disturbed at least two possible Trump voters: AA and Amadeus. They told you so. So how is it not dumb? There are so many ways Trump could have NOT upset them. Fop-doodles, prats, even the standby losers. But he goes, basically, for smegma. It looks, to use Ann's word, ugly when it should look amused and dismissive.

J Oliver said...

Senate votes. 46 republican chastise impeachment hoax. Who are the six human scums left over?

Ken B said...

Re ugly. You pay attention to points of language. What role does “human” play? Althouse reads it as an intensifier. I think that has to be correct. It cannot just mean they are human beings. He doesn’t call losers human losers for example. It’s not otiose. That's where the extra ugliness that Althouse feels comes from.

PluralThumb said...

Way to transition from Democrats to Republicans. Anger is not to blame, micro-bilogy maybe ?

Left Bank of the Charles said...

For me, pond scum comes to mind, not semen. Are you mixing scum with cum?

One way to read Donald Trump is that everything he calls other people - lying, little, low energy, crooked, crazy, sleazy, shifty - is a tell about what is true about himself. So Trump has marked himself as human scum. That’s a harsh self-assessment, but looks to be true,

Mary Beth (the commenter) said...

once called Mrs. Clinton a “minister in a skirt.”

I don't see the insult.

Qwinn said...

Dozens of public figures on the Left say far worse about Trump, and other Republicans, daily. That never seems to upset the Anns and Amadeuses. Kathy Griffin holds up a facsimile of Trump's bloody decapitatated head? Sheesh, Trump supporters are so sensitive!

Bette Midler just expressed gratitude toward Rand Paul's neighbor for physically assaulting and doing massive damage to him. And that's just today's entry.

How is calling someone a name worse than the actual physical violence, and incitement to violence, that the Left sprays on a daily basis?

The hypocrisy of the double standards is staggering. I guess that's "cruel neutrality" for ya.

Amadeus 48 said...

Three thoughts:
1. Regarding Susan Rice, if she is letting Tommy (the Van Driver) Vietor feed her lines, she is really stupid.
2. Barr and Durham may be about to drop the dime on a bunch of high level intelligence and DOJ apparatchiks. You can smell the fear. Don't give your enemies an excuse to distract the voters.
3. Trump is his own worst enemy because he cannot restrain himself. He needs to contemplate the virtues of "less is more." He needs to pick his spots better. There isn't a single person who is well disposed to Trump who thinks that Mitt Romney ("Pierre Delecto"--was he posing as gay?) didn't disgrace himself. Let Mittens dangle slowly, slowly in the wind.* Instead, Trump appeared to call him "human scum." Sheesh.
*classical reference.

wholelottasplainin' said...

Ken B said...
Re ugly. You pay attention to points of language. What role does “human” play? Althouse reads it as an intensifier. I think that has to be correct. It cannot just mean they are human beings. He doesn’t call losers human losers for example. It’s not otiose. That's where the extra ugliness that Althouse feels comes from.

If push comes to massed gunfire, does anyone think each side will regard The Other Side as anything *other* than Human Scum?

Michael K said...

The walls really are closing in, but not on Trump.

For more than two years, President Trump has repeatedly attacked the Russia investigation, portraying it as a hoax and illegal even months after the special counsel closed it. Now, Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into how it all began.

Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to impanel a grand jury and to file criminal charges.

Chuck and Steve Uhr most affected. Howard and Freder too.

Michael K said...

Fop-doodles, prats, even the standby losers. But he goes, basically, for smegma. It looks, to use Ann's word, ugly when it should look amused and dismissive.<

Speaking of fop doodles.

Drago said...

J Oliver: "Senate votes. 46 republican chastise impeachment hoax. Who are the six human scums left over?"

Romney, Murkowski, Collins and Gardner are 4 of the 6.

DKWalser said...

Althouse -- I can understand how 'human scum' sounded particularly ugly to your ears. We obviously have traveled in different circles. The insult was not foreign to my ears. It was a fairly common, and rather mild, insult where I grew up in the SF Bay area. I never understood it to mean anything worse than 'low life'. Nor did I understand it to have a sexual connotation (but, I was in jr. high, so I might have missed a sexual meaning).

Nor am I surprised that the term isn't found often in the NYT's archives. Frankly, I'm surprised that you would assume that fact is evidence that the term's usage was rare (or that Trump may have gotten the term from North Korea's use). The NYT is a newspaper. The language used in a newspaper is not colloquial. You probably won't find frequent use of a lot of other profane terms used in the paper, but that isn't evidence for the notion that profanity isn't used 'on the street'. It just isn't, or wasn't, used in a newspaper. The OED would be a better reference for tracking the use of the term. But, even the OED only tracks the use of a term in print -- which misses a lot of street usage.

None of this is to suggest that I'm happy Trump used the term. Our President's language is vulgar -- which means he uses the language of common people. It would be nice if he had the facility with language of a Churchill or a Lincoln. He doesn't. Nor does he try to elevate his language. I wish he would. But, I'll take him with this fault rather than have a mealy mouthed President lacking in backbone.

Question: Doesn't this post deserve the 'civility BS' tag?

Ken B said...

J Oliver
Who are they? Votes you need to replace Ginsburg with. No big deal.

Gahrie said...

I didn't like his using the term, which feels so ugly and dehumanizing.

I agree...he clearly should have used splooge stooge instead.

Yancey Ward said...

Ken B,

He was talking about the NeverTrump writers and pundits, and probably Delicious Dick Romney. In that context, being outraged by the comment is kind of silly.

Crazy World said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
readering said...

You know guys,just because you think ugly thoughts does not mean you are required to express them at length here.

Crazy World said...

Kanaka is a great word and Falling Down is a fantastic movie especially after all these years of PC BS

Ann Althouse said...

"For me, pond scum comes to mind...."

How do you picture it as "human"?

Try to think of another example of using something that isn't part of a human being or created by a human being that you'd call "human."

You might say, "He's dirt." But would you say "He's human dirt"? I think if you switch to "human dirt," it sounds like you're referring to "human shit." But people don't say "He's human shit." They say "He's shit." They'd say "human shit" when looking at excrement that is apart from its human source to distinguish it from shit from another source.

If you'd say "He's human shit" instead of "He's shit," it would sound like you were upgrading his status, acknowledging his humanness, as in the statement (which I've never heard but am just making up): "He's shit, but he's human shit."

Again, try to think of an example. Let's look at other insults where the image, the metaphor isn't something that can be part of a human being or created by a human being and see if it works to append "human."

Take, for example, "tool." "He's a tool." Would you say, "He's a human tool"? I don't think we do that.

Let's say you wanted to call someone a "dog." You wouldn't say, "He's a human dog."

Again, I am trying to get at the instinct that produced the "human" in "human scum."

And remember, the dictionary includes "semen" as one of the definitions of "scum," so I am not making the leap there.

Ann Althouse said...

By the way, the non-semen kind of "scum" is notably something that rises to the top. Odd that it's used to refer to the lowness of a person.

What's key in the impulse to say "scum" is disgust — the revulsion that you feel when you encounter a tainted, slimy liquid. That's why we are seeing it in connection with racism. Notice that the expert quoted in the post about North Korean rhetoric, Brian R. Myers, wrote a book called “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters.” I suspect the NK use of "human scum" is expressing their racism.

To get back to my question in my previous comment, consider the word "slime," which has much the same feeling as "scum" and is a common insult. But do we hear "human slime"? The phrase "human slime" has only appeared once in the NYT, in 1875. The article was "THE POOR IN ITALY/SAD PICTURES IN NAPLES. AMONG THE FONDACI GROTTOES AS DWELLINGS FOR HUMAN BEINGS THE SOURCES OF THE CAMORRA THE NEED OF A POOR-LAW." The phrase is a description of sewage running in the streets — "the foul slush, black with human slime." There isn't one example of insulting a person by calling him "human slime."

rhhardin said...

Scum is the general term, human is the variety.

rhhardin said...

The implication is something to discard.

rhhardin said...

I see scum without disgust. But, consderation-wise, they have to be swept away.

Althouse seemed to feel disgust at losers sabotaging the presidency with crap news, at least I think so.

But it's misguided. The news wants clicks, so it's the audience the deserves the disgust. The news is just an entertainment business but the audience chooses to live real life in the fictions.

Soap opera women who feel that feelings matter most even after having enough evidence to be a caution.

You want women in the kitchen because they're always willing to put their hands on a hot stove again.

tim in vermont said...

"is a tell about what is true about himself.”

Oh... I get it. So when Hillary hires a law firm and they go to Ukraine and even Russia to dig dirt on Donald Trump, then Democrats accuse Trump of doing just that, that’s Trump accusing the Democrats of what he is doing himself. Brilliant.

One thing I have to say about Democrats, and I say this with admiration, you guys can come up with the best defense mechanisms to keep you from examining your own behavior.

Glenn Simpson testified to Congress about his attempts to dig up dirt on Trump in Russia. You know what he said was a tell that Trump was dirty, that he didn’t come back with some dirty deal, so he must have been hiding something. That’s what Glenn Simpson told Congress. Glenn Simpson, in case you didn’t know was hired by a Clinton law firm that paid Putin spies for made up dirt on Trump.

It’s amazing to me that you guys keep coming back here and yet still find it impossible to see through the propaganda you are being fed.

rhhardin said...

Disgust at scum shows anti-Chinese bias, cooking-wise.

Amadeus 48 said...

Collins and Gardner have very tough re-election races in states that are decidedly not pro-Trump. Why would they vote for the Senate resolution right now?

And anyone that thinks that Collins did not put her long career at risk by making that great speech in the Senate--the best speech I have heard in the Senate in my lifetime--when she voted for Kavanaugh isn't paying attention. The money is pouring into Maine from the activist Left to defeat her.

I sent her re-election campaign $1,000--which is my non-presidential maximum--last week. We have to look at that Senate election map. A GOP majority in the Senate after 2020 is not a sure thing. Susan Collins earned my undying respect and support for the way she handled the Kavanaugh nomination.

The Minnow Wrangler said...

I don't have much to say about Trump's comments, fortunately I am not required to defend his every tweet and action.

However, you mentioned, "Two Years Before The Mast" which is an excellent historical narrative. Of course being written in the 1800's he is a bit patronizing towards the Kanakas, as well as the Mexicans and Indians in California, but mostly he is compassionate and feels affection for them.

Merchant sailors at that time were not treated much better than African slaves, living on substandard diets, being beaten for insubordination, subject to going on deck at all hours of the night, in terrifying, life threatening conditions, never knowing when or if you would ever get home again. It's not all about the horrors of their working conditions though, it's fascinating to read about them making and mending their own clothes, and the pride they took in their appearance when they went ashore, and the descriptions of the work they did in California hauling cowhides from the coast out to their ship. Very enjoyable read although the nautical terms had me lost a few times.

Roy Jacobsen said...

Two things rise to the top: cream, and scum.

rhhardin said...

My father taught me how to make, what was it called, French coffee.

To put in cream, put a spoon just below the surface and pour the cream onto it. The cream floats on top, looking like you have a cup of cream.

The point is the temperature experience, cold on top and hot underneath, when you sip it.

You can no longer do it because they don't put out cream. Whatever it is, it sinks.

Nichevo said...

The reason that he called them humans come instead of just scum is that when you call people anything that is not a human such as rats were viruses, you get accused of dehumanization and being a Nazi. So whatever he calls his opponents, it can't be something that's not human, so he added human to his epithet. Never Trumper certainly are scum. From a person from Texas I learned that they claim to be careful of using squares and if you want to call somebody a piece of s*** in Texas, you call him trash or a piece of trash. But I would say that for a man like Romney, trash is not strong enough.

Angle-Dyne, Servant of Ugliness said...

AA: Again, I am trying to get at the instinct that produced the "human" in "human scum."

I'm trying to understand the motivation behind the drive to satisfy yourself that, with "human scum", Trump has *really* done gone and made an extraordinary, un-presidentially impulsive, this-time-really-beyond-the-pale insult. It's...it's...it's *racial*, or something. It's unarguably bad. So bad we must all stop and reconsider...something. "Look, I could tolerate "scum", but "*human*" scum? OMG that's really deep and dark and deeply and darkly *meaningful*. (Especially as directed at the immaculately civil Never Trumpers, who would never, ever, sink to such Hitleritarianly dehumanizing invective, against any individual or group.)"

Déjà vu all over again. Like I came back home and 2015 is being replayed. Let's all go back to taking seriously what the idiot media is telling us to take really seriously. And people who aren't scandalized by "human scum" are "Trumpkins" again. Hey, has "personality cult" been recycled yet? I assume so, since I've seen that old classic "if only Trump would control himself the media wouldn't have a hook to attack him and would be forced to cover Important-and-Damning-to-the-Democrats Issue X" go by. And oh, yeah, "Muh Moderates". That "human" was an obvious channeling of Nazis *and* North Korea, and the moderates are lost thereby. Good times, good times.

So serious, these unserious people. Such unserious things, being taken so seriously.

Don't worry, folks. Fair odds that Trump is a flash in the pan, with no viable successors and no necessary deep bench for any long-term or even mid-term re-alignment. Romney 2.0 is out there somewhere, and in a few years you'll be able to vote for him (or her) with a smile of "moderate" satisfaction. Just be patient.

Qwinn said...

If Trump hadn't used the word "human", the Left would be screaming that his use of "scum" was "dangerously dehumanizing", implying it's ok to kill scum. You know. Just like Hitler.

I really do think that's the entire reason behind that word choice. The Left has used that tactic hundreds of rimes.

DavidD said...

“Oh, no, PDJT just called Republicans poopy-heads.

Sorry, I can’t vote for him now.”

Jim at said...

Who are they? Votes you need to replace Ginsburg with. No big deal.

Yeah. Because voting against a meaningless resolution is going to play out exactly the same way as a vote for a SCOTUS nominee.

Michael K said...

The point is the temperature experience, cold on top and hot underneath, when you sip it.

You can no longer do it because they don't put out cream. Whatever it is, it sinks.

I use whipping cream in coffee. Haven't tried to see if it will float. It just lasts longer without going sour and I use smaller amounts.

D said...

Who knew the term "human scum" would GARNER enough interest to warrant so many words? Someone with DEEPLY held convictions should come up with a condensed version and put it on a t-shirt so that even us primitives can join the sharp witted intelligent crowd.