Breitbart v. - To intentionally make something appear to be its opposite for political ends. The pundit breitbarted Shirley Sherrod.
It's not everyday that someone gets a new word named after him. But that is exactly what is about to happen to rightwing blogger Andrew Breitbart.
Breitbart is the guy who last week intentionally published excerpts of the talk made by Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod that made her speech about racial reconciliation look as if she was herself a racist. Of course when you saw the entire speech it was clear that just the opposite was true.
This is nothing new for Breitbart -- or his blog BigGovernment.com -- who was also the source of the doctored videos that helped destroy ACORN. But this particular intentional distortion stands out because it was so crystal clear. Breitbart's video convinced the entire mainstream media and the Department of Agriculture, the White House and the NAACP of Sherrod's guilt. Of course, within a matter of 24 hours, when the entire speech was published, it became clear to everyone that Breitbart had convinced the world that Sherrod was guilty of saying exactly the opposite of what she actually said.
Now it is Breitbart whose name has become synonymous with political sleaze. And it is likely that within a few years, his name will appear in the dictionary as a verb -- "to breitbart your enemy" -- to claim for political purposes, that he has done the exact opposite of what he actually did.
When a new word is named for a person, it's called an eponym. If Breitbart is in fact memorialized in the pages of Merriam-Webster with an eponym, he will join the list of other scoundrels whose acts are were so outrageous -- or at least notorious -- that they were accorded words of their own. Here are a few:
- In the late eighteen century a Virginian planter named Charles Lynch launched a vigilante group that was aimed at playing the roles of jury and executioner for remaining American Tories. In fact, he egotistically referred to his actions as "lynch law" and "lynching." The name stuck.
- According to CNN, it's not entirely clear from the historical record if the Athenian lawgiver Draco was a real person or a character in a mythical historic recounting of the time. What is clear is that Draco instituted two time-honored traditions: 1) Writing laws down; and 2) Making laws that were absolutely outrageous. Draco's laws included ascribing the death penalty for offenses like being lazy, peeing in the alley, and stealing an apple. Henceforth the world has referred to over-the-top laws as requiring "draconian penalties."
- Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897) was a landlord who became the target of the Irish Land League for gouging everyday citizens with exorbitant rents. The League tried to cut him off from supplies, mail, servants, etc. The new tactic now bears his name -- the boycott.
- Mary Queen of England (1553-58) became notorious for her persecution of Protestants. For ever after, people have sauntered up to the bar and asked for a "Bloody Mary."
- In 1789, a French physician named Joseph Guillotine proposed a new system for beheading the condemned that he considered more "humane" than hanging. Needless to say Guillotine has not been remembered for his bedside manner.
- Nicholas Chauvin was an early 19th Century French soldier and a particularly slavish devotee of the cult of Napoleon. A French dramatist later wrote a play in which a super patriotic character was based on Chauvin. That lead to the term Chauvinism -- meaning unquestioning patriotic devotion to a nation or state.
- Names can be based on companies and not just individuals. In the American military the term "to Blackwater" is now used regularly to refer to any attempt by private military contractors to hire away governmental personnel with the lure of higher pay. This of course just costs the taxpayers more for the services of the personnel that we have paid to train -- but in the process it does allows companies like Blackwater to make a ton of profit -- compliments of Uncle Sam.
- Then there was English General Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842). Shrapnel came to believe that ordinary cannon balls did not inflict enough damage to the enemy's army. So to solve this problem he filled hollow cannon balls with bullets and exploding charges. These became the basis of many extremely devastating weapons that killed and maimed thousands during World War I. In honor of the misery and devastation his innovation inflicted, these tiny pieces of exploding pieces of metal became known as shrapnel. What a legacy.
And just think of the legacy of Andrew Breitbart. The entire country -- and now much of the world -- knows that he personally embodies the worst tradition of the false campaign smear. He has taken the art to new highs of brazenness. He surely deserves to have his name affixed forever to any attempt to intentionally claim for political purposes that someone did just the opposite of what they actually did. What an honor to join the ranks of people like Draco, Guillotine and Shrapnel. "To breitbart" -- I know it will make him so proud.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.