November 20, 2006

What, that lynching stuff?

I meant to tell you a few days ago, when Trent Lott was chosen to return to the political spotlight as Senate minority whip in the next Congress, about how it reminded me of a Language Log post. On NPR this week I heard an interview with one of the Republican Senators who participated in the meeting where the decision on Lott was made. Was there any discussion, the NPR interviewer wanted to know, about the incident of 2002? (You'll recall that in 2002, at the 100th birthday party for Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott said that if the country had elected the Thurmond to the presidency in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." Thurmond in 1948 was not only militantly in favor of segregation but also dead set against Federal anti-lynching laws. The inescapable implication of Lott's remark was that a Thurmond presidency would have prevented the rise of the civil rights movement; activist negroes would have been hung from trees rather than getting to demonstrate and vote and gain access to white schools the way they finally and disruptively did in the 1960s.) What caught my ear was that in response the Republican Senator being interviewed simply said: "It didn't come up". The exact words of the punchline from the hilariously spot-on Dilbert cartoon that Mark discussed (in connection with stereotypes of male empathy deficit) just two months before: the strip where Dilbert gets the numbers from Yvonne without asking about how she is coping with her sextuplets now that her house has burned down and she's had shoulder surgery. Sometimes linguistic life imitates linguistic art so beautifully.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at November 20, 2006 01:42 AM