In front of a big crowd, the vile Mr. Trump coined a brand new vulgar verb in order to claim that Barack Obama used his penis to strike Hillary Clinton.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:
When mentioning Obama’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries of 2008, Trump said that “she got schlonged, she lost, I mean she lost.” Reporters claimed that Trump coined a new word because they did not know that ‘schlonged’ is a slang term for getting badly defeated, especially in an election. Other people, including Trump himself, had previously used the word in that very context.
December 21, 2015. At a campaign rally in Michigan, Donald Trump briefly mentioned Hillary Clinton’s surprising loss to Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries: “she was favored to win, and, she got schlonged, she lost, I mean she lost.” Note that the last phrase specifies what he meant.
The next day, some reporters put a spotlight on one word: “schlonged.” They pointed out that ‘schlong’ means penis. They interpreted Trump in the worst possible way: they said he meant that Hillary Clinton was struck, well, by Barack Obama’s private part.
At MSNBC, for example, journalist David Brock argued: “the idea of a black rapist, basically, using the schlong to defeat Hillary, I mean I think that’s what that really was about.”
A writer in Slate said that it was a “jaw-dropping, sexist description of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama in 2008.”
Trump complained that the media was dishonest. He said that “schlonged” is not vulgar. He said he meant that Hillary Clinton was “beaten badly.”
But news commentators denied that it was even a verb.
The Washington Post stated that what Trump did was “bastardize a Yiddish noun for penis (literally, serpent) by turning it into a verb.”
Also in the Washington Post, professor Steven Pinker did “a linguistic investigation.” He argued that apparently Trump invented a vulgar verb, that he “reached for what he thought was a Yinglish word for ‘beat’ and inadvertently coined an obscene one.”
A writer at Forbes asked an expert on Yiddish, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, who replied that “It’s never used as a verb, said Blech, or, as Trump claims, as a benign way to say beaten.”
In the Huffington Post, Deborah Levine wrote: “The word ‘schlonge’ means penis, it’s rude and crude and I have never uttered out loud in my life. My father would have had a heart attack. It comes from the German word for ‘snake’ and implies that the ‘schlonge’ in question is ample in size. There is no verb ‘to schlonge,’ so Trump can own that one.”
In order for Trump to be right, one would need evidence. People would need to have previously used the verb “schlonged” to mean a bad political defeat.
And he was right.
Writing for the The Daily Mail, David Martosko found that a 1967 issue of a student newspaper at New York City College used the expression after a student government election: “As Ellen Turkish, running for Council ’68, put it: ‘We got schlonged.’”
In Politico, Ben Zimmer pointed out that “on Fox News in 2006, Dick Morris warned that President George W. Bush was ‘going to get schlonged’ in the midterm elections.”
In 2011, journalist Neal Conan, working at NPR, remarked what happened when Walter Mondale ran for the presidency in 1984: “That ticket went on to get schlonged at the polls, but that’s a historic moment.”
Similarly, in 2011, Trump himself used the expression:
“I watched a popular Republican woman [Jane Corwin] not only lose but get schlonged by a Democrat [Kathy Hochul] nobody ever heard of for the congressional seat.”
Note that he was referring to two women, and he said it in the same way as when he spoke about Clinton vs. Obama: a relative unknown defeating a well known candidate. These words by Trump were published in the Washington Post, of all places, in 2011 and again in 2012, yet nobody complained about it being vulgar.
The award winning journalist Jeff Greenfield explained:
“Trump is right on this. ‘I got schlonged’ is a commonplace NY way of saying: ‘I lost big time,’ w/out genital reference.”
Greenfield is a respected, mainstream, political analyst, since 1968, working for ABC, CNN, CBS, PBS, and author of 13 books.
Others too, in New York, explained that to them ‘schlonged’ just meant ‘thoroughly defeated‘:
“Not to make too fine a point of it, but when I was growing up on Long Island, not too far from where Donald Trump grew up and around the same time, ‘shlonged’ was a pretty commonplace verb meaning, roughly, ‘thoroughly defeated.’ It had nothing to do, at least in the minds of anyone I knew, with the Yiddish noun shlong, meaning penis.”
At Harvard University, the famous professor on psychology and language Steven Pinker also explained that Trump’s use of the verb ‘schlonged’ could simply mean to defeat, trounce, wallop, clobber, etc.
No news pundits gave examples of the word being used in books. Yet here I found the verb in a few books:
Bob Spitz, Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival 1969 (2014): “We’re gonna take a beating then. I mean—hell, John Roberts has a fortune invested in this thing. … I’ll go on stage and make an announcement about how we’re gonna get schlonged by lettin’ everybody in ahead of time…”
The Tim, Urban Dictionary (2005), “To be brutalised is to be very very very drunk; it’s the stage after ‘fit shaced’, and just before ‘totally schlonged‘.”
Richard Elman, Tar Beach (1991), p. 127: “he went bust on 7th Avenue, and the Party took a shlonging.”
William W. Crain, The Wayfarers (1972), p. 14: “He stole your words, calling them expert, schlonging himself on the head with labels, diving into categories.”
Summing up, the verb ‘schlonged’ is sometimes used in contexts without sexual meaning, such as getting beaten up in some way or losing badly in a political contest, especially in New York. Trump used it in a political context, at least twice, yet the one time when it involved Hilary Clinton the media immediately interpreted it in the worst way, and few writers bothered to check if it meant anything else.
In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank opined: “Thus did Trump bastardize a Yiddish noun for penis (literally, serpent) by turning it into a verb in front of 7,500 people and millions more who would see it on TV. Oy vey iz mir! What a putz!” Then Milbank added flair to his piece with these phrases: “go defecate in the ocean.” “If my grandmother had testicles she would be my grandfather.” And “You can’t pee on my back and tell me that it’s raining.” Apparently vulgarity was fine when used to criticize Donald Trump.
Note again the mistaken denial that the verb even existed before Trump. The striking thing about most of the pundits’ comments is how strongly they seized on the worst possible negative meaning of one word, to be alarmed by it, and how they did not bother to check whether maybe it meant something else.
Thanks to a reporter’s interpretation, a word that was voiced for just half a second became a dreadful story propagated internationally, even as far away as Korea.
Alberto A. Martinez is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Next, Chapter 17: Romney calls Trump “a phony, a fraud”