In the news lull before much of America takes off for Christmas, Donald Trump's use of the word "schlonged" to describe Hillary Clinton's 2008 primary loss seized the public's imagination — or, according to our analysis of Google data, the imagination of that dismal subsection of the public that cares about politics.
The subtext of it all was that the term appeared to be a crass reference to the male anatomy. Or was it, as Trump suggested on his personal newswire (Twitter) on Tuesday night, just a term for losing an election badly?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2015
Trump also retweeted political analyst Jeff Greenfield's defense of the term, in which Greenfield declared that the term is "a commonplace NY way of saying: 'I lost big time.'"
On further review, Trump is right on this. "I got schlonged" is a commonplace NY way of saying: "I lost big time," w/out genital reference.
— Jeff Greenfield (@greenfield64) December 23, 2015
To be perfectly clear, the expression is by no means "commonplace" — in New York or elsewhere. It has never appeared in the New York Times (prior to this week) and does not appear to have been used in any New York paper early in the 20th century. It doesn't appear in Irving Lewis Allen's 1993 book, "The City in Slang," which documents any number of lesser-known expressions that trickled out of New York City. And, as a point of personal privilege, it's not something that I'm familiar with, having grown up upstate and lived in the city for most of the past decade.
But it has popped up a few times, as The Post's Justin Moyer reported on Tuesday, including one usage in the exact same context — and in an interview with The Fix's very own Chris Cillizza.
In March of 2011, Cillizza was interviewed by NPR's Neil Conan to discuss the then-recent death of 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. Conan, who was born in Beirut but grew up in New York City, used the expression to describe the outcome of that race, which Ferraro and Walter Mondale lost overwhelmingly.
CONAN: Chris Cillizza, that ticket went on to get schlonged at the polls, but that's a historic moment.
CILLIZZA: Absolutely historic moment, Neal, but as you point out, lost 49 states. The only state that that ticket won, which was led by Walter Mondale, was his home state of Minnesota.
A veritable schlonging. (The word didn't impress itself upon Cillizza at the time, he said over email Tuesday evening, nor does it seem to have fazed him during the interview.)
There are other examples, pointed out by linguist Ben Zimmer in an article at Politico. He also notes that Google's index of books turns up some examples, such as from "Welcome, Sinner" by Richard Posner, published in 1974.
Slang like "schlonged" wouldn't normally crop up in written journalism, of course. That it appears in a radio broadcast, where editing is trickier, isn't really a surprise. Conan, like Trump, is in his late 60s, suggesting that there may be a generational aspect to its use. Lots of words that were common and unremarkable decades ago are now viewed as disrespectful or inappropriate, of course, but Trump, it seems, might well be right.
We have to point out how Cillizza's remarks in that 2011 "Talk of the Nation" segment end. He compares Ferraro's uniqueness as a candidate to another candidate who gave it a shot only three years before Chris was speaking.
"[G]roundbreaking in its way," Cllizza said, "but one fascinating tidbit: We still don't have a woman president, and we had a female, obviously, nominee, with Hillary Clinton, and she lost the nomination."
She got beaten very badly, in fact. If I were a few decades older, there's a term I might use.
This post has been updated with the additions from Zimmer.