Hillary Clinton speaks at the National Council of La Raza conference on July 13, 2015. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Debate moderator Maria Elena Salinas turned her attention to Hillary Clinton during Wednesday night's debate. "So, secretary, I have a question for you," Salinas said. "In 2003, you said on a radio show, specifically it was John Gambling's radio show in New York, that you were adamantly against illegal immigrants and that people have to stop employing illegal immigrants. ... So, are you flip-flopping on this issue? Or are you pandering to Latinos, what some would call 'Hispandering?'"

Some would ... what?

The term -- referring to attempts by politicians to curry favors with Hispanic voters -- is not new, by Internet standards. I remembered it as being fairly common when I lived in California a decade ago, so I reached out to my friend Cristina Uribe, who works in politics in the state, to see when she first heard the term.

I was surprised.

"I didn't hear it until this year," Uribe said, "when people accused Hillary Clinton of doing it when talking about how she's like my abuelita." You may remember that kerfuffle: Clinton's campaign produced a list of ways she's like an Hispanic grandmother, or abuela. It was received poorly by the community, since things like this come off as ... inauthentic.


Uribe, who is of Mexican heritage, continued. "Since most folks I know consider themselves Latino, I assumed some white hipster made up the term. No one I know considers themselves Hispanic. Growing up in California we were either Mexican or Latino/a. (Obviously not anymore, but mostly.)"

She's half right. It seems to have been white people who made up the term (explaining, perhaps, why I'd heard it and she hadn't) -- but it's not clear if they're hipsters.

NPR produced a nice etymology of the term, but the most precise comes from a 2012 paper by linguist Ben Zimmer (who's helped us before) and Duke University Press's Charles Carson.

Hispandering, as Zimmer and Carson define it, is "political pandering by elected officials or candidates seeking to win over Hispanic voters." The first usage they cite comes from July 2001, in a newsletter sent out by the conservative site the Federalist. The newsletter's quote of the week comes "From the 'Hispandering' File," and proceeds to quote a critique of then-president George W. Bush from the Washington Times's Wesley Pruden.

The first occurrence of the term in the news index Nexis is from a 2002 blog post by Mickey Kaus, then at Slate. "The Scrum," a political blog, "pays close attention to the 2004 presidential race," Kaus writes, "noticing Dick Gephardt's recent Hispandering proposal to 'legalize undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years and worked in the country for two years,' which should have generated more controversy than it did." Emphasis in the original. Kaus's prominence as a blogger certainly helped introduce the term to more people. (In this 2002 blog post, Sam Francis opts for Kaus's "Hispander" versus his own, clunkier "Hispano-pander.")

To NPR, Kaus explained that he came up with the term independently. (It's very fair to assume that the then-liberal and later-conservative Kaus wasn't subscribed to the Federalist's newsletter.) "I'm always looking for puns. And I was wondering, what can we do to mock this trend of, 'God, we've got to appease the growing Latino vote?'," Kaus told NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji.

Interestingly, that explanation circles back to the distinction Uribe draws between "Hispanic" and "Latino."

In 2013, Pew Research found that most Latinos or Hispanics don't have a strong preference for one term over the other. Generally, Hispanics are people whose origins are in Spanish-speaking countries, while Latinos (and Latinas) are people whose families are from Latin American countries, including Brazil. You can see that there's overlap there, which is likely why 50 percent of Hispanics (Latinos) don't really care which is used. In Texas, though, 46 percent of of respondents preferred "Hispanic;" Uribe is one of the 17 percent of Californians who prefer "Latino."


In other words, we may need another word -- one that includes political outreach to non-Hispanic Latinos. Platitinos? Sycophantino? The Washington Post was one of the debate's sponsors last night. We'll try to have this new term ready by the time we're sponsoring the next one.