When he called out Internet provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, above, some on the alt-right labeled the author an “SJW” (social justice warrior) and a “public predator.” (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Columnist, Civilities

I’ve always said that I appreciate all my readers, both those who agree with me and those who don’t. But lately I’ve been puzzled by the new slurs directed at me by some of the latter. Many I didn’t even understand, so I did some digging.

Apparently, tried-and-true insults such as “fag,” “fairy,” “kike” and “hebe” (yes, I’m Jewish) are old-school, especially among the alt-right. That small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state is developing new coded language, much as the Nazis once did, says noted linguist George Lakoff, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

For instance, in February I wrote about Milo Yiannopoulos, the now-disgraced Breitbart News editor and alt-right poster boy. I heard from many readers about that column, which took Yiannopoulos to task for his incendiary language. But one email caught my eye: “Milo is far less bigoted, misogynist, and hateful than those of you sick sociopathic and psychotic SJW’s who smear him so desperately.” Sick, sociopathic and psychotic, I knew. But SJW? I had no clue. In a personal ad it might mean “straight Jewish woman,” but two of those don’t apply to me. So what was this snarky new gem of an insult?

I emailed back, “What is an SJW?” The reply: “An SJW is a social justice warrior. In the press, this particular public predator tends to be big on PC [political correctness] virtue signaling but happy to smear others viciously with false accusations of sexism, racism, white nationalism, hate speech, etc.”

Well, that was certainly clear — I’m a “public predator” allegedly guilty of smearing Yiannopoulos by referring to his very own, widely reported hateful language.

I started looking into other slurs readers hurled at me. There was “libtard,” and one I really liked at first — “snowflake,” because they’re magical, in moderation.

But here’s the nasty undercurrent: These new words are intrinsic to the alt-right’s rise, according to Lakoff. He connects this to the Nazis and the coded language (prime example: “the master race”) that eventually allowed them to topple governmental institutions. “The strategy is to control discourse,” Lakoff points out. “One way you do that is preemptive name calling . . . based on a moral hierarchy.”

I asked what he meant by a moral hierarchy. “God above man, man above nature, men above women. The strong above the weak. Christians above gays,” he said, continuing with even more examples. Lakoff emphasized that this is different from the Democrats’ labeling some conservatives racist, sexist or homophobic — which they do — if only because that usage is not as “canny” or strategic.

Take Donald Trump’s repeated characterization of Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary,” Lakoff said. Say it often enough in public, and people start to believe it, and before you know it people such as Clinton are discredited. “The whole idea is not to be civil,” Lakoff says. “The idea is to win.”

With that in mind, here’s a short primer on some of the alt-right coded language making the rounds:

Snowflake. This is no compliment, even if you like to think that you’re one of a kind. At best, it’s a derisive term for someone considered entitled, which to those using it includes people of color, LGBT folks, students — even Meryl Streep for her pro-kindness stance at the Golden Globes. Sarah McBride of the Human Rights Campaign told me that it’s often used against LGBT people in reference “to pronoun usage, particularly nonbinary pronoun use, and the efforts on college campuses to be more aware and affirming of people’s pronouns.” Used in a sentence, via Urban Dictionary: “Hey snowflake, Trump won, deal with it.” With one word you’re dismissed as weak, feminine, juvenile — a loser.

Libtard. “Lib” is for “liberal,” while “tard” is shorthand for “retard.” Bingo! If you’re two thumbs down on political correctness, then what better insult than this combination? It even allows a bonus zing at folks with special needs.

Cuck. I heard this one while watching Bill Maher’s HBO show several weeks ago. One of his guests kept using it. It’s short for “cuckservative,” which is a word cocktail made up of equal parts “conservative” and “cuckold.” Urban Dictionary defines it as “a racial slur for a White person that is not loyal to White Supremacy” and offers this sample of use in a sentence: “Jeb is such a cuck.”

Masculinist. I’m an out and proud feminist, but I’d never heard of “masculinist.” According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “an advocate of male superiority or dominance” and is often used to promote traditional gender roles. The Oxford Dictionaries use it this way, in reference to the 1990s: “The newly unified German parliament replicated the same masculinist pattern, celebrating its debut with less than 10 percent women representatives.” That’s the same as in pre-World War II Germany — and there’s that Nazi thing again.

Bottom line: It pays to increase your word power these days. There’s much more to alt-right coded language than meets the eye – or the ear. “Steven Petrow is a Social Justice Warrior, a public predator, a devotee of political correctness, and happy to tar and feather others with false accusations.” If they say it often enough, you might believe it, and then you might not believe anything I write or say. That’s their whole point.

Agree or disagree with my perspective? Let me know in the comments section below.

You can reach the author on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter @stevenpetrow. Join him for a chat online at washingtonpost.com on April 18 at 1 p.m.