July 22, 2009

of truthers and birthers

I must admit that when I read today at salon.com that "Liz Cheney defends the Birthers", I had no idea what the article was about. Turns out that birthers are those people who believe that Barack Obama was not eligible to become President of the United States because, according to them, there is serious doubt about his citizenship status.

I'm familiar with the movement, but I thought it had died down. Obviously not. Salon reports that Liz Cheney said on Larry King that the birther movement exists because "people are uncomfortable with a president who is reluctant to defend the nation overseas." A-ha.

From a linguistic viewpoint, I think it's interesting how much the term birther resembles the term truther, which refers to someone "who rejects the accepted explanation of the events of 9/11. Truthers generally believe the U.S. government committed the acts of terrorism against itself." (urbandictionary.com). Both are nouns ending on -er, but they are not derived from a verb. A birther in this sense is not someone who has given birth. It's a person who holds on to a crazy idea about the birth of someone, with much conviction but with no evidence. Similarly, a truther is not someone who tells the truth habitually (although that is one of the definitions listed on urbandictionary.com), rather, it's someone who holds on to a crazy idea about the truth of an event, with much conviction but with no evidence. The event in question is not fixed: There are 9/11 truthers (one of them even got to teach a course on Islam Studies at UW-Madison), and there are moon landing truthers, for example, among them, apparently, Whoopi Goldberg ("Why is the flag rippling? There is no air.").

It's a whole new job for the affix -er, which is already doing double duty in English, as a nominalization affix (driver, teacher) and a comparative affix (bigger, nicer).

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