August 30, 2007

If you're a fan of cute headlines

Here's your daily dose: "Love triangle kidnap pampernaut preps wingnut defence", The Register, 8/29/2007.

But "wingnut" usually has a political dimension that's missing here -- the story makes it clear that Nowak's defense team is contemplating a plea of temporary insanity, not temporary Republicanism. (Though the way things have been going recently...)

Is frequent use bleaching the politics out of the term wingnut in general, or was The Register's editor just seduced by the "kidnap pampernaut"/"wingnut defense" chiasmus? In any case, the wordplay inspired by the other recent national adult-diaper story has been spiritless in comparison.

[hat tip to David Donnell]

[Askash Mehendale thinks it was the Atlantic ocean that did the bleaching:

I would suggest a third explanation: that over on this side of the pond (as I am, and the Reg staff mostly are), 'wingnut' means only one of:

- a particular type of nut (as in nut-and-bolt), with protruding wings that make it easier to turn
- a person with protruding ears (by association with the above)
- an insane or merely strange person

In my experience, the last arrived from AmE (if that's where it came from) without any political connotation.

One piece of evidence for this spin on the word is the Microsoft/Peter Jackson joint venture Wingnut Interactive, located in New Zealand (and thus subject to an even larger dose of salt-water bleaching). Certainly there's no evidence that Jackson has right-wing politics that he feels strongly enough about to put into his games-studio name.

However, I don't see a lot of other evidence of wingnut used simply to mean "insane or strange". ]

[Boyd D. Garrett Sr. writes:

During my tenure in the Navy from the mid-70s through the mid-90s, I worked quite a bit with colleagues from the Air Force. We frequently referred to them as "wingnuts," roughly meaning "those insane or strange people who are often organized into Wings" (a major organizational division used by the US Air Force: see the Wikipedia entry). I seem to recall the term being used generically outside any military reference, but I can't provide any citations, unfortunately.

I don't know when this term came to be popularly applied to "right-wingers," but I don't recall hearing it used that way until this century.


[George Amis writes (from Santa Cruz):

There's a famous Santa Cruz surfer called Wingnut (his real name is Robert Weaver). He appeared in a surfing film called Endless Summer II. I'd be surprised if he has much interest in politics. The Wingnut apparently refers to his wild and crazed behavior on and off the waves.


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 30, 2007 06:13 AM