The Real Meaning of “America First” and Why It Matters

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For the love of God, please don’t use “America First” as a catchphrase. Seriously, that phrase doesn’t remotely mean what Trump, Republicans, and over 60 million voters think it means. Because it’s a saying with historical roots that evokes one of the ugliest chapters in American history.

Like most of the humanities, history is often an underrated subject that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Sure it may not lead to a lucrative career, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or necessary. But historical knowledge is often essential when it comes to understanding our world and even ourselves, especially in the realm of politics and government. Though many people might think history class is a waste of time, they are sorely mistaken. To know history is an essential part of being a good citizen in any democratic society because whatever happens in the past doesn’t really go away. What happens in the past affects us in the present as well as becomes part of our heritage. By showing us how we came to be, history also tells us who we are and what we could be. Past events can give us answers on why things happened the way they did. And they can sometimes help us find solutions, especially on what not to do. Yet, though great moments in our history are worth remembering, there are also moments of great sin and shame we shouldn’t forget, especially if their impact persists to this day. Because it’s often said that those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. Or at least make terrible decisions that might lead to history repeating itself. Those who don’t care to know about history and see no value in it are prone to disrespect the greater humanity. And if a historically illiterate person has political power, then they pose a serious danger to us all.

Even before Donald Trump became president, it’s very clear he doesn’t know much about American history nor does he see the value in knowing it. Sure his campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again” but the kind of past he’s referring to is one of nostalgia for a time in which the United States really wasn’t that great. Nor was it a time that most of us would want to live. At the same time, Trump embodies the absolute worst in our country’s past with his rhetoric of fear and division, his message of racism and xenophobia, his decades long history of corrupt business practices, his disregard for decency, his consummate lying, and his petty vindictiveness. His presidential victory was made possible by the fact Americans are embarrassingly ignorant in civics and history, as statistics widely support this claim. History will not look kindly on the Trump supporters who elected one of the most deplorable individuals of our time to the White House and will in time be deemed morally reprehensible and ultimately forced to explain themselves to their grandchildren. I know these words seem harsh and hard to swallow for many. But as a history major, I know far too well of what happens whenever people support leaders on the wrong side of history. It’s no question that Trump certainly is and that his presidency will be an absolute disaster. And there is no way I can sugar coat it.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s historical illiteracy and apathy can be better demonstrated than in his use of the phrase of “America First” that he used as a centerpiece in his campaign. At first, this saying may seem innocent on the surface. But what does “America First” mean exactly? According to Trump, “America First” is just a catchphrase for prioritizing American interests as in, “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” He likens it to an original slogan, telling David Sanger, “To me, America First is a brand-new modern term. I never related it to the past.” In many ways he wants to make it seem like it’s a patriotic affirmation like putting the US first above all else which certainly resonate to the over 60 million Americans who elected him president.

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Contrary to what Trump may say, the phrase “America First” has a long history. But it’s most identified with the America First Committee, a group that opposed US entry into World War II. Though it only lasted for about a year and a half, it was one of the biggest anti-war organizations in US history with members hailing from all walks of life. However, its failure to disown its ugliest supporters would forever poison its reputation.

However, contrary to what Trump may say, the phrase “America First” is actually not a brand-new modern term but one that dates all the way to the early 20th century. The phrase was originally a political slogan for Woodrow Wilson’s reelection campaign in 1915 to echo the isolationist policies he’d later abandon for good reason and is also the name of a credit union based in Utah.And William Randolph Hearst often used the phrase in the 1930s as a nationalistic enthusiasm for crushing the left by hyperbole in his anti-FDR crusade. But the term would become best associated with the America First Committee, an organization whose legacy remarks upon one of the ugliest chapters in modern American history. Originally established by a group of Yale Law students including Quaker Oats heir R. Douglas Stuart Jr., future president Gerald Ford, future Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, and future US Supreme Court justice Potter Stuart, the America First Committee was the foremost non-interventionist pressure group against the American entry into World War II. At its peak, it boasted over 800,000 paid members in 450 chapters and was one of the largest anti-war organizations in American history. It also claimed a lot of prominent members from all across the political spectrum and all walks of life. Some were millionaire financial backers like Henry Ford, General Robert E. Wood of Sears-Roebuck, meatpacker Jay Hormel, banker William J. Grace, Sterling Morton of Morton Salt, textile manufacturer William Regnery, publisher Joseph M. Patterson of the New York Daily News, and publishers Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. Political supporters of the AFC included US Senate Democrats Burton K. Wheeler of Montana and David I. Walsh of Massachusetts, North Dakota Republican Senator Gerald P. Nye, and Socialist leader Norman Thomas. Another was Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth who was also a former president’s daughter, the then-current First Lady’s cousin, the then-president’s distant cousin, widow to a Speaker of the House, a former mistress and baby mama to a US Senator, and sister to a future Medal of Honor recipient. Oh, and her baby daddy Republican Senator William A. Borah of Idaho supported the AFC, too. The American First Committee even had celebrity allies such as novelist Sinclair Lewis, poet E. E. Cummings, Walt Disney, silent-screen icon and actress Lillian Gish, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, novelist Kathleen Norris, and most importantly famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. Future president John F. Kennedy and author Gore Vidal were also AFC members.

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Though hard to believe today, the reasons why many Americans didn’t want to fight Nazi Germany in 1940 are somewhat understandable. After all, many saw World War I as a meaningless bloodbath between imperialistic European powers that the US had no business in. And many thought the war in Europe at the time would be the same way.

Of course, you should know that Adolf Hitler had already invaded Poland by this point and posed a significant threat to European nations who stood in his way as Great Britain was experiencing its shittiest year of the war while France and Belgium fell to the Nazis. Oh, and a militarist Japan was causing all kinds of hell for Asian countries and/or European colonial possessions in the Pacific but their front won’t be the main focus for awhile. The standard rationale for the American First Committee was that the United States was protected by 2 oceans and its vast land mass, and that intervention in Europe would turn out no better than it had in WWI. While most Americans rooted for the Allies in 1940 (85% according to a Fortune poll), they didn’t want to do anything that would help them win either. After all, the US already did that in 1917 during World War I which strongly divided the American public and didn’t seem like a conflict the country should’ve gotten involved in. Yet, after the British found Germany trying to provoke a Mexican reconquista on the American southwest, maintaining neutrality was impossible. Then there’s the fact the US was home to so many European immigrants who didn’t want to support a country they didn’t like or be thoroughly demonized as the enemy. Not to mention, the US lost about 110,000 troops during this time, including 43,000 to the influenza pandemic and they were only in the war for a little more than a year while isolationism was such a powerful influence that the US Senate refused US entry into the League of Nations despite it being among Wilson’s Fourteen Points or at least on his terms. Though Gary Gerstle would prefer the term unilateralism in which the US should be free act in the world to preserve its own interests like it had in Latin America and the Pacific. And since WWI seems like a meaningless bloodbath provoked by an archduke assassination, well, you can see why Americans wouldn’t want to be entangled in another European conflict. Then there’s the fact Britain and France participated in imperialism with colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific which comes with the usual human rights violations.

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The America First Committee was often highly critical of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as opposed his Lend-Lease policy. On one hand, he did promise to uphold neutrality while attempting to maximize Allied support. But on the other hand, even when neutrality was popular most Americans wanted the Allies to win. FDR understood that the US would have to get involved in the war sooner or later.

Even before World War II kicked off with Hitler’s Polish invasion, most Americans demanded US neutrality on Europe that Congress passed a series of neutrality acts to keep the government from supporting either side. Though in practice, it was to keep FDR from corresponding with Winston Churchill and sending support to Britain. Because the Axis powers were widely disliked in the country, anyway.  Yet, though FDR promised to keep the US out of the war, he attempted to maximize support for the Allies on the side while skirting if not actually violating the principle of neutrality. The America First Committee profoundly distrusted him for this and harshly accused FDR of lying to the American people. Sure FDR probably acted dishonestly but to be fair, he understood that many of these Allied European nations were fighting for their lives. And he realized if Americans wanted the Allies to win, then the US government would have to help them. But the AFC criticized and opposed him at every step, especially when he decided to seek a third term and proposed Lend-Lease in early 1941 both of which most Americans supported anyway. Besides, though most Americans might not be happy with intervention, they’d be willing to so if US involvement was necessary to defeat fascism which only became increasingly apparent as 1941 went on particularly when Hitler stabbed Stalin in the back by invading Russia.

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Though America First often tried to brand itself as a mainstream anti-war organization, it included members whose views had more to do with their anti-Semitism, pro-fascism, xenophobia, and Nazi sympathies. Unfortunately, America First refused to disown these ugly elements and would later be defined by them as you see in this Dr. Seuss cartoon.

So where does the historical baggage come in? Because all you say about the American First Committee was that it was a bipartisan anti-war group opposing US entry into WWII for pretty justifiable reasons. However, not everyone in the America First Committee opposed US intervention over the catastrophes of World War I or in the name of general pacifism. Nor was it just a group for FDR haters either. Though the AFC was harshly critical toward him and many of his opponents joined up as a way of primarily attacking the guy for his New Deal. The AFC also included more than its fair share of people whose views had more to do with their anti-Semitism, pro-fascism, and xenophobia. Some members were even said to be Nazi sympathizers. Such facts weren’t helped from the fact that the AFC so staunchly wanted to preserve American neutrality even if it meant urging the government to be nice to Hitler. Nor that it counted prominent anti-Semites of the day among its ranks. Or that several prominent AFC members believed that old-fashioned democracy was in decline and that a modern, energetic fascism represented a The Wave of the Future as Anne Morrow Lindbergh titled her 1940 booklet. She even took her pro-fascist position one step further in her book by calling US sign a pact with Germany similar to Hitler’s Non-Aggression Treaty with Josef Stalin. Naturally, the Roosevelt administration attacked the book as “the bible of every American Nazi, Fascist, Bundist and Appeaser” and it was among the most despised books of the period. She also called Hitler “a very great man, like an inspired religious leader—and as such rather fanatical—but not scheming, not selfish, not greedy for power” in a letter. As America First tried to brand itself as a mainstream organization, the anti-Semitic attitudes and Nazi sympathies of some of its leaders and many of its members began to emerge. And their refusal to disown their ugliest supporters would be its fatal flaw. According to historian Susan Dunn in a CNN article from last April, “It had to remove from its executive committee not only the notoriously anti-Semitic Henry Ford but also Avery Brundage, the former chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee who had prevented two Jewish runners from the American track team in Berlin in 1936 from running in the finals of the 4×100 relay.” And America First’s anti-Semitic problems only became worse when Charles Lindbergh was recruited as their spokesman.

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The most famous face of America First was none other than famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, best known for his nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927. In 1940, he was a lauded as a national hero in the US. But in 1941, that was soon to change.

Now Charles Lindbergh was a natural choice to represent the America First Committee. For one, he was a major celebrity who was universally loved for his nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. He was also relatively handsome and had a lovely family that would eventually include 5-6 children. Of course, his oldest child had already been kidnapped and murdered which was reported so exhaustively and sensationally by the press that it became known as “The Crime of the Century.” Second, he had no interest in exploiting his celebrity and was a very private man for very good reasons. Nor did he have higher ambitions of any kind, political or otherwise. Third, he came from the Midwest, which was home to the bulk of the AFC’s registered members and he was certainly one of the most famous celebrities from that area at the time. Fourth, he was no fan of FDR and had feuded with him for years which satisfied some of the haters. Fifth, he was a charismatic man whose words can sound just as good on paper as they would coming from his mouth. And finally, compared to a lot of celebrities at the time, he had a rather wholesome reputation. It’s no surprise that the famed aviator from Minnesota would become the AFC’s highest profile spokesman whose speeches were heard by hundreds of thousands within the movement and millions outside.

Hermann Göring with Charles Lindbergh. Library of Congress photo

During the mid to late 1930s, Charles Lindbergh visited Nazi Germany several times where he toured the Luftwaffe as well as hobnobbed with a bunch of high Nazi officials like Hermann Goering. Unfortunately, the place impressed him a little too much that despite condemning Krsitallanacht and seeing Hitler as a fanatic, he kind of came off as a Nazi sympathizer.

Yet, behind that boyish face, was a man with very whacked out political views though they were not unusual or socially unacceptable for the time among the American people. Lindbergh believed in eugenics as he expressed his ideal woman as having a keen intellect, good health and strong genes because “experience in breeding animals on our farm had taught me the importance of good heredity.” To be fair, he was raised at a time when eugenics was espoused across the political spectrum even though it led to some of the worst known human rights abuses known to man and was based on junk science. In the mid to late 1930s, Lindbergh made several trips to Nazi Germany to tour the Luftwaffe which made a great impression on him that he became convinced that no power in Europe or the US could defeat it. He believed that a war between Germany and the US would be bad and it would be especially for the “white race.” So much so that Lindbergh stated that he believed the survival of the white race was more important than the survival of European democracy. “We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races,” he wrote in his infamous 1939 article for Reader’s Digest. It didn’t help that he publicly and privately spoke of Hitler in admiring terms as having “far more character and vision than I thought existed in the German leader who has been painted in so many different ways by the accounts in America and England. He is undoubtedly a great man.” As an ardent anticommunist, Lindbergh considered Russia a “semi-Asiatic” country and saw Communism as an ideology that would destroy the West’s “racial strength” and replace everyone of European descent with “a pressing sea of Yellow, Black, and Brown.” And if Lindbergh had to choose, he’d rather see the US allied with Nazi Germany than Soviet Russia. Oh, and he was an anti-Semite who subscribed to conspiracy theories. In his reaction to anti-Jewish pogrom Kristallnacht (which consisted of the Nazis destroying over 100 synagogues along with thousands of Jewish businesses while imprisoning thousands of Jews), Lindbergh wrote, “I do not understand these riots on the part of the Germans. It seems so contrary to their sense of order and intelligence. They have undoubtedly had a difficult ‘Jewish problem’, but why is it necessary to handle it so unreasonably?” Because Hitler wanted to do terrible stuff to the Jews, asshole. And it didn’t help that he received the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle from Hermann Goering on Hitler’s behalf a few weeks before which caused controversy, which he refused to return. “It seems to me that the returning of decorations, which were given in times of peace and as a gesture of friendship, can have no constructive effect,” Lindbergh wrote making excuses for Nazi Germany. “If I were to return the German medal, it seems to me that it would be an unnecessary insult. Even if war develops between us, I can see no gain in indulging in a spitting contest before that war begins.” Yes, but it would’ve at least absolved him from suspicion. Because in 1941, Lindbergh resigned his Air Force commission as colonel at FDR’s demand after proposing that the US negotiate a neutrality pact with Germany during his testimony opposing the Lend-Lease bill before House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

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On September 11, 1941, Charles Lindbergh would give a speech at an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa. In it, he blamed the British, the Roosevelt administration, and American Jews for pushing the US into war with Europe. Guess which group he put on notice for pushing for war through their control of the media.

Charles Lindbergh’s political ideas on race, the Jewish people, and foreign policy might seem morally reprehensible and extreme today, but they were hardly fringe in the early 1940s and he had voiced them without serious public outcry at this point. If anything, resigning his Air Force commission may have worked in his favor as far as some non-interventionists were concerned. However, he would play a critical role in why “America First” has become the noxious slogan that continues to echo isolationist, defeatist, fascist, and anti-Semitic sentiments to this day. On September 11, 1941, Lindbergh would deliver a speech to a huge crowd during an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa. In it, he identified forces pulling the US into the war as the British, the Roosevelt administration, and American Jews. And it’s what he said about the third group where he made his true thoughts known. At first, he expressed sympathy for the persecution the Jews in Germany suffered and remarked on how he understood why any American Jew would want to see the Nazi regime pay. But then he went on putting American Jews on notice, saying that America’s “tolerance” for them rested upon a fragile foundation but most somehow most still don’t seem to understand that and want the US to intervene in a war that would endanger everybody but especially them. Then Lindbergh let the Jews know what he really thought about them, “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.” In other words, Lindbergh saw American Jews constituting of a wealthy, influential, and conspiratorial foreign, “race” that controls “our” media and has infiltrated “our” political institutions. And that they were an internal alien out-group, hostile to “us.” In short, he blames the Jews for pushing the US into war and manipulating the narrative through the media. Such sentiment reeks classic anti-Semitism which had no basis in fact. Though Lindbergh claimed he wasn’t “attacking either the Jewish or the British people,” he went on saying, “that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.” So fighting an enemy that’s either bombing the shit out of you on a regular basis or persecuting (if not exterminating) people from your ethnoreligious group and possibly your loved ones from the old country aren’t American reasons? Also, their interests weren’t exactly based on “natural passions and prejudices of other peoples” either. Though Lindbergh uses such words to make British and Jewish seem like they want to drag the US into a needless war that could lead to its destruction.

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Charles Lindbergh’s Des Moines speech was met with public outrage from all over the country over his anti-Semitic and divisive remarks that he’d suffer a massive fall from grace. So much so that his hometown even took his name off their water tower. His now tarnished reputation would never fully recover.

Somewhere in his speech Lindbergh crossed a line because public reception was not kind to him or the American First Committee from this point on. Lindbergh was strongly and swiftly condemned for his anti-Semitic and divisive words. Reporting from Europe, New York Herald Tribune columnist Dorothy Thompson wrote, “I am absolutely certain that Lindbergh is pro-Nazi. I am absolutely certain that Lindbergh foresees a new party along Nazi lines.” The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “The voice is the voice of Lindbergh, but the words are the words of Hitler.” And those sentiments of outrage echoed widely among newspapers, columnists, politicians, and religious leaders. Interventionists opposed to America First created pamphlets indicating how Nazi Germany praised his efforts and included quotations like “Racial strength is vital; politics, a luxury.” The pamphlets also included pictures of Lindbergh and other American Firsters using the stiff-armed Bellamy Salute (a hand gesture described by Francis Bellamy to accompany his Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag that fell out of favor during the 1920s and 1930s because totalitarian regimes adopted salutes of similar form). Though the photos were taken at an angle not showing the flag, observers still found such gestures indistinguishable from the better known Heil Hitler. But Lindbergh’s detractors weren’t the only ones bashing him for his Des Moines speech. His fans who lionized him also had harsh words to say. The Des Moines Register called his speech, “so intemperate, so unfair, so dangerous in its implications that it cannot but turn many spadefuls in the digging of the grave of his influence in this country.” The anti-Roosevelt and non-interventionist loving Hearst papers condemned Lindbergh as “un-American.” His mother-in-law and sister-in-law publicly opposed his views while civic and corporate organizations cut all ties with him. Hell, his hometown of Little Falls, Minnesota took his name off their water tower. And I’m sure millions of kids probably took down their pictures of him that they put in the trash like he was a disgraced sports hero. In the public’s view, the once beloved aviator was now disgraced and his tarnished reputation would never fully recover.

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From that point on, the America First Committee would be associated with Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitism ever since. Soon even the more moderate isolationist cut ties with the organization before it disbanded after Pearl Harbor. Since then, almost no politician who’s wanted to draw close to America First as it remains a shameful stain on our history.

In turn the America First Committee was as TIME put it on a cover story, “touched the pitch of anti-Semitism, and its fingers were tarred.” Despite its protestations that it wasn’t an anti-Semitic group and that it was looking out for American Jewish interests, America First would become associated with such anti-Semitic rhetoric Lindbergh had voiced in that infamous speech in Des Moines. So much so that more moderate isolationists started dropping out and it acquired its very bad name and pernicious reputation. And after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor that December, the America First Committee disbanded since there was no possibility of isolation by that point. But echoes of “America First” have persisted in the years and decades since. Before Trump decided to make it a campaign slogan, Pat Buchanan used it for his presidential campaign to run in 2000 on the Reform ticket. Of course, Buchanan believes that World War II as an “unnecessary war.” In his book A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America’s Destiny, he’s depicted Lindbergh and other pre-war isolationists as American patriots smeared by interventionists during the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. And Buchanan suggests such backlash of Lindbergh highlights “the explosiveness of mixing ethnic politics with foreign policy.” He also campaigned against free trade. Ironically, it was Trump who seeking the Reform Party nomination at the time, called Buchanan “a Hitler lover.” So it’s possible he might know something about where “America First” came from even if he doesn’t care about the implications from employing it. Because Buchanan certainly does. But as far as political figures go, Buchanan is an exception since his views on history are outside mainstream conservatism. Since the 1940s, there has almost been no politician who’s wanted to draw close to America First.

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Then despite the highly negative historical connotations, why the hell does Trump keep using “America First” as a catchphrase? He’s said he likes the expression. But I think he likes how his supporters positively react to it as an innocent patriotic affirmation. Mostly because a lot of his supporters have absolutely no idea where “America First” came from or what it really means.

But why would Trump employ such a phrase like “America First” in his rhetoric despite that those words echoing such an ugly chapter in America’s recent past? Sure he may like the expression, but he may even enjoy more the kind of applause and provocation he gets from uttering those words by the very supporters who have absolutely no clue where that awful phrase came from nor care to find out. And he probably doesn’t care that such catchphrase makes some people hear disturbing echoes that the Anti-Defamation League has asked him to stop using “America First” and redirected fifty-six thousand dollars in donations from the Trump family to anti-bullying and anti-bias causes.  But Trump won’t stop saying that phrase anytime soon. Because to him, it’s a tremendously popular slogan that resonates with his economic nationalism. And he’s denied the phrase’s existence as a historical term whenever reporters have pointed it out for him. For instance, when asked whether he meant isolationism last April, Trump replied, “Not isolationist, I’m not isolationist, but I am ‘America First.’ So I like the expression. I’m ‘America First. We have been disrespected, mocked and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher.” In some ways, it’s possible Trump wants “America First” to mean “we will not be ripped off anymore.” And since American historical consciousness doesn’t run deep, it’s possible that Trump supporters see “America First” as an innocent affirmation of patriotism that it’s not.

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It’s possible that Trump may believe his adoption of the phrase “America First” could supersede its past. However, I don’t think it’s possible not because of Trump. But mostly because such symbols and phrases with noxious connotations don’t usually change their meanings over time. And it’s a lesson I’ve surely learned when I argued for the Confederate Flag’s removal during the summer of 2015.

As NPR’s Ron Elving put it, “assuming he is aware of at least some of that history, Trump is demonstrating his confidence that his adoption of a phrase can supersede its past.” But is it even possible for him to shake off that phrase’s toxic past? The Atlantic states such endeavor could prove difficult especially since Trump’s inauguration speech offered little to no outreach to the millions of Americans who fear what his presidency may bring. However, I think this assumption is a bit too optimistic. I say this because many of those Trump supporters who see “America First” as an innocent patriotic affirmation also see the Confederate flag as a sacred emblem of their Southern heritage. In the summer of 2015, I wrote a post arguing why the flag should be removed due to being a symbol of white supremacy that’s been used to justify decades of subjugating, discrimination, and violence against black people, which apparently angered a lot of people who tried to tell me otherwise. The Confederate flag is often associated with very ugly chapter in American history in which a bunch of powerful white guys started a war after splitting off from the US in order to form a country where they can subjugate black people to a lifetime of involuntary servitude. It is very clear that many Southern whites still haven’t gotten over that the North won that war which outlawed slavery that they went to great lengths to make sure black people could never gain any social, economic, or political power. And despite the Civil Rights Movement and the election of Barack Obama, these people show no sign of stopping any time soon.

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In 2015, a group in Detroit, Michigan erected a billboard like this that was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League on grounds of anti-Semitism. As Heidi Budaj said, This particular sign goes a step further and raises an old anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty, implying that Jews are not loyal to the country in which they live. Make no mistake that while many of the Jewish people in the United States support the state of Israel as a Jewish state, we are loyal Americans.” Of course, the use of “America First” is much more closer to its historical anti-Semitic roots. However, I’m not really sure if the group who put up this billboard knows what “America First” really means or even intends to incite anti-Semitism.

That being said, I think “American First” will continue to emanate how opposition to American entanglement in the world became polluted by anti-Semitism regardless of what Trump, his supporters, or Republicans may think. They may claim they don’t hate Jewish people nor embrace a 1940s isolationism. They may not be Nazi sympathizers or be soft on Hitler the way Charles Lindbergh was or how the America First Committee might’ve been. But however they use “America First” regardless of what meaning attached to it, none of their personal biases change that phrase’s toxic isolationist, defeatist, nationalistic, fascist, and anti-Semitic evocations. And just because such people don’t believe such stuff anymore doesn’t mean such interpretations go away. I also don’t think Trump helps his case by having a noted anti-Semite and white nationalist to write his speeches on his White House along with plenty of anti-Semitic supporters (i.e. white supremacists). As Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said, “For many Americans, the term ‘America First’ will always be associated with and tainted by this history.” Conservative editor of The Weekly Standard Bill Kristol would say the same adding on Twitter, “I’ll be unembarrassedly old-fashioned here: It is profoundly depressing and vulgar to hear an American president proclaim ‘America First.’” Greenblatt and Kristol may not always agree with everything, but when it comes to “America First,” both these men see such phrase evokes a shameful chapter in our history. And one Jewish woman wrote on Facebook, “That America First part brought me to tears and anyone who doesn’t understand why can unfriend me right now.” Despite what anyone would say, such connotations pertaining to “America First” still persist in the historical contexts, especially among American Jews. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon. So if you’re a proud patriot who wants to make America great, you should stop saying “America First” and not support politicians who use that as a catchphrase, especially if they have no idea to what it really means.

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The historical contexts of “America First” still exist in the minds of many Americans whether Jewish or Gentile this day and that’s unlikely to change. So if you want to show love to America, don’t use “America First” as your patriotic affirmation nor support politicians who use the term as a campaign slogan. Because it’s very likely they have no idea of its historical roots as to what it really means.

Fun and Clever Insults from Famous People in the Days of Yore

1. William Faulkner (on Ernest Hemingway): “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Ernest Hemingway: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

2. George Bernard Shaw (to Winston Churchill): “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend… if you have one.”

Winston Churchill (to George Bernard Shaw): “Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one.”

3. The Earl of Sandwich: “You, Mr. Wilkes, will die either of the pox or on the gallows.”

John Wilkes (to the Earl of Sandwich): “That depends, my lord, whether I embrace your mistress or your principles.”

4. James Reston (on Richard Nixon): “He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.”

5. Lady Astor (to Winston Churchill): “Winston, if you were my husband, I would poison your coffee!”

Winston Churchill (to Lady Astor): “Madam, if I were your husband, I would drink it!”

6. Winston Churchill (when asked whether he was drunk): “I may be drunk madame, but in the morning I will be sober, and you will be just as ugly.”

7. Clarence Darrow: “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”

8. Moses Hadas: “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.”

9. Howard Hughes (about Clark Gable): “His ears made him look like a taxi cab with both doors open.”

10. Lyndon B. Johnson (about Gerald Ford): “He’s a nice guy, but he played too much football with his helmet off.”

11. Jack E. Leonard: “There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure.”

12. Leonard Louis Levinson: “I wish I’d known you when you were alive.”

13. Abraham Lincoln: “He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.”

14. Groucho Marx: “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”

15. Groucho Marx: “From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

16. Groucho Marx: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”

17. Golda Meir: “Don’t be humble…you’re not that great.”

18. Thomas Paine (about John Adams): “It has been the political career of this man to begin with hypocrisy, proceed with arrogance, and finish with contempt.”

19. Robert Redford: “He has the attention span of a lightning bolt.”

20. Thomas Brackett Reed: “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.”

21. Aristophanes: “You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner.”

22. Milton Berle: “Why are we honoring this man? Have we run out of human beings?”

23. Stephen Bishop: “I feel so miserable without you, it’s almost like having you here.”

24. Irvin S. Cobb: “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.”

25. Winston Churchill: “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices Iadmire.”

26. Winston Churchill: “A modest little person, with much to be modest about.”

27. A. E. Housman: “Nature not content with denying him the ability to think, has endowed him with the ability to write.”

28. Samuel Johnson: “He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others.”

29. Victor Hugo: “God was bored by him.”

30. William McAdoo (on Warren G. Harding): “His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.”

31. Jim Samuels: “You’re a good example of why some animals eat their young.”

32. George Bernard Shaw: “The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation, but not the power of speech.”

33. Neil Simon: “Gee, what a terrific party. Later on we’ll get some fluid and embalm each other.”

34. Forrest Tucker: “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.”

35. Mark Twain: “His ignorance covers the world like a blanket, and there’s scarcely a hole in it anywhere.”

36. Mark Twain: “A solemn, unsmiling, sanctimonious old iceberg who looked like he was waiting for a vacancy in the Trinity.”

37. Mark Twain: “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

38. Mark Twain: “Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?”

39. Mae West: “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”

40. Oscar Wilde: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”

41. Oscar Wilde: “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”

42. Billy Wilder: “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.”

43. Oscar Wilde: “Why was I born with such contemporaries?”

44. Andrew Lang (1844-1912): “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts for support rather than illumination.”

45. Edith Sitwell: “A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits.”

46. Franklin K. Dane: “Ignorance is never out of style. It was in fashion yesterday, it is the rage today, and it will set the pace tomorrow.”

47. Elizabeth Taylor: “Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.”

48. Mark Twain: “I can never learn to like her, except on a raft at sea with no other provisions in sight.”

49. Dorothy Parker: “The woman speaks eight languages and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.”

50. William Kerr: “He has delusions of adequacy.”

51. John Bright: ”He is a self-made man and worships his creator.”

52. Truman Capote (on Jack Kerouac): “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

53. Gregory Ratoff: “You’re a parasite for sore eyes.”

54. Jonathan Swift: “Fine words! I wonder where you stole them.”

55. Liberace: “What you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank.”

56. William Dean Howells: “Some people stay longer in an hour than others can in a week.”

57. Fred Allen: “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.”

58. Oscar Levant: “Every time I look at you I get a fierce desire to be lonesome.”

59. Groucho Marx: “Don’t look now, but there’s one too many in this room and I think it’s you.”

60. Jeremy Thorpe: “Greater love hath no man than this, to lay down his friends for his life.”

61. Moliere: “He must have killed a lot of men to have made so much money.”

62. Charles Kingsley: “He was one of those men who possess almost every gift, except the gift of the power to use them.”

63. Oscar Wilde: “He would stab his best friend for the sake of writing an epigram on his tombstone.”

64. W. S. Gilbert: “No one can have a higher opinion of him than I have; and I think he’s a dirty little beast.”

65. Heinrich Heine: “Ordinarily he is insane. But he has lucid moments when he is only stupid.”

66. Jean Webster: “She never lets ideas interrupt the easy flow of her conversation.”

67. Mark Twain: “You take the lies out of him, and he’ll shrink to the size of your hat; you take the malice out of him, and he’ll disappear.”

68. Lyndon B. Johnson: “The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character.”

69. Mark Twain: “Reader, suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”

70. Oscar Wilde: “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”

71. James Thurber: “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”

72. Benjamin Disraeli: “He was distinguished for ignorance; for he had only one idea and that was wrong.”

73. Leo Tolstoy: “He never chooses an opinion; he just wears whatever happens to be in style.”

74. Groucho Marx: “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”

75. Josh Billings: “When I see a man of shallow understanding extravagantly clothed, I feel sorry – for the clothes.”

76. Catherine the Great: “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”

77. Lillian Gish: “Young man, if God had wanted you to see me that way, he would have put your eyes in your bellybutton.”

78. Benjamin Disraeli: “If William Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune. If anybody pulled him out, that would be a calamity.”

79. Mark Twain: “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig Jane Austen up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

80. Oscar Wilde: “There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Alexander Pope.”

81. Will Rogers: “An economist’s guess is liable to be as good as anybody else’s.”

82. Mark Twain: “There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”

83. Charlotte Whitton: “Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

84. Mark Twain: “He is useless on top of the ground; he aught to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.”

85. Mark Twain: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

86. Dorothy Parker: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

87. Groucho Marx: “Remember men, we’re fighting for this woman’s honor; which is probably more than she ever did.”

88. Richard Moore: “When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3,000 years.”

89. Albert Einstein: “Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the former.”

90. Adlai Stevenson: “Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.”

91. Will Rogers: “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

92. Will Rogers: “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”

93. Jonathan Swift: “I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.”

94. Nathaniel Hawthorne (on Edward Bulwer-Lytton): “Bulwer nauseates me; he is the very pimple of the age’s humbug. There is no hope of the public, so long as he retains an admirer, a reader, or a publisher.”

95. Anatole France (on Emile Zola): “His work is evil, and he is one of those unhappy beings of whom one can say that it would be better had he never been born.”

96. Fred Allen: “What’s on your mind? If you’ll forgive the overstatement.”

97. P. G. Wodehouse: “He had just about enough intelligence to open his mouth when he wanted to eat, but certainly no more.”

98. Charles Baudelaire (on Richard Wagner): “I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws.”

99. Groucho Marx: “Next time I see you, remind me not to talk to you.”

100. George Bernard Shaw: “He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”

“He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” – See more at: http://www.articlereviewwriters.com/fun-and-famous-insults.html#sthash.0JsKBNSN.dpuf
“He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” – See more at: http://www.articlereviewwriters.com/fun-and-famous-insults.html#sthash.0JsKBNSN.dpuf
“He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” – See more at: http://www.articlereviewwriters.com/fun-and-famous-insults.html#sthash.0JsKBNSN.dpuf
“He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” – See more at: http://www.articlereviewwriters.com/fun-and-famous-insults.html#sthash.0JsKBNSN.dpuf
“He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” – See more at: http://www.articlereviewwriters.com/fun-and-famous-insults.html#sthash.0JsKBNSN.dpuf

Words and Meaning Through Time

Image

If I ever offended any gays with this picture, I completely apologize since this is just a good picture for this post. Besides, it’s an old-timey advertisement for cigarettes (probably in Britain) and not meant to offend any one. The word “fag” as the short form of an offensive homophobic slur is a more recent development.

While I discussed how certain sayings don’t always translate well in different cultures, in this post I will devote to certain words and their acquired meanings through time particularly in English, especially those with certain unsavory NSFW connotations attached since many of them are fun to trace. Though many words have lasted for centuries, some of them could be considered offensive in one generation while totally harmless the next and vice versa. Misplaced context might incite in giggles, shock, or a “Huh?” followed by “Oh, okay.” Others may have certain dirty little etymologies. So without further adieu, let me show you the amusing little way words have changed meaning through time.

1. Gay- we all know that its present meaning refers to someone who’s of homosexual orientation but this definition dates to the 1930s and before then was only used in gay and theatrical subcultures, at one time it was described as “happy, carefree, joyful” but this was only dating to the late 1800s and was used only among New York criminals before that, it’s original meaning is actually prostitute (and yes, it was used in 1900 to describe a gay male prostitute but only briefly before it started meaning homosexuals in general.)

2. Queer- of course, this is now seen as a slur directed against gay people though it’s the “Q” in the LGBTQ community and perhaps used among themselves (like how blacks use the N-word). Before then, it meant “strange, odd.”

3. Idiot, Moron, Imbecile- these started as clinical terms to describe someone as dumber than Forrest Gump. As they fell into the general insult terms of today they were replaced by a kinder, gentler term: “retarded.”

4. Retarded- a former clinical term once used as a political correctness measure to describe someone who’s mentally handicapped, has nowadays evolved to the worst possible word to describe a person with this condition that it’s now almost considered hate speech.

5. Lesbian- before it became to mean a woman with a homosexual orientation  due to is association with the ancient Greek poet Sappho as well as her sexual behavior, it just meant “someone from Lesbos.” Actually anything associated with Sappho will be associated with lesbianism because she’s known more for that than her own poetry, sad to say.

6. Making Love- now a more discreet euphemism for sexual intercourse, this has meant everything romance and courtship to making out and PDA.

7. Faggot- once meant a bundle of sticks tied together and used for a fire before it became a homophobic slur. How it came to be a anti-gay slur, no one knows.

8. Weird- before it meant “sort of generally eccentric,” its original definitions were “scary” or “supernatural.”

9. Shag- once meant a tobacco product, now just means sex.

10. Boner- originally meant “embarrassing and/or major blunder” now it’s just something old guys get for four hours after taking Viagra.

11. Violent- at onetime this was defined as “overly emotional” yet we still associated with “blood, guts, killing, as well as psychological and bodily harm.”

12. Straight- though still means “totally linear” or “less funny guy in a comedy act” it also used to denote “law-abiding” and “clean,” now it means “heterosexual.”

13. High- though it still means “upward” it also used to mean “happy” before it obtained its current definition “in a drug influenced haze.”

14. Boob, Boobie- used to mean “dummy” before it took on it’s current definition of “breast” in the 1970s.

15. Hung- when used as an adjective, it used to be “hungover,” “executed through strangulation,” or “lynched.” Now it just means something sexual.

16. Glory Hole- once meant “a mineral rich trench pit.” Now it’s something else entirely.

17. Pleasure- has a lot of multiple meanings like “getting enjoyment out of doing something,” or “pleased.” Now it’s almost always used in a sexual context.

18. Ecstasy- used to mean “happiness” or “pleasure,” now refers to an illegal recreational drug.

19. Molest- once meant “disturb” or “bothered” now used as a term referring to unwanted sexual contact, particularly with a minor.

20. Fondle- used to refer to innocent or affectionate touching, now it pertains to touching in a sexual or erotic context.

21. Tranny- in British slang it was “transistor radio” while in American slang it was, “automobile transition.” Today it refers to either “transgender” or “transvestite.”

22. Fetish- back in the day it meant something like “totem object associated with a spirit.” Nowadays it refers to an erotic fixation to something that shouldn’t be.

23. Inter-Sexual, Bisexual- both used to mean “unisex,” now the former describes a “hermaphrodite” while the other just pertains someone who “goes both ways” in sexual orientation. (Bisexual has also meant “hermaphrodite” as well.)

24. Courtesan- once meant “courtier” or “court lady” now means “high class prostitute,” “mistress,” or “kept woman.”

25. Intercourse- used to mean “communication between individuals,” now refers to “copulation.”

26. Conversation- once meant “sexual intercourse or intimacy” now pertains to, “social communication involving two or more individuals.” Could also have meant “sexual harassment.”

27. Naughty- once meant “ill-behaved” but though it retains the meaning, it also refers to wayward sexual behavior.

28. Fanny- in more innocent times was a nickname for Frances. Now refers to “rear end” in the US and “female genitalia” in the UK and Australia.

29. Knock Up- at an earlier time it meant “to wake up” (by knocking on the door). Nowadays “to impregnate.”

30. Come Out- in olden days “to be considered an adult who frequents social gatherings” particularly to young women when it came to finding a husband. Now it means “to acknowledge one’s homosexuality to the world.”

31. Titillate- in the early days it might have meant “to tickle” but now means “to excite sexual arousal.”

32. Pussy- though originally used in reference to a cat, can also be used today in referring to either “cowardice” or “female genitalia.” (The latter part usage goes way back since there’s a 1930s song called “My Girl’s Pussy” and I don’t think the guy’s talking about a cat here.)

33. Ejaculate- originally meant “to exclaim or interject” now means something a guy does during sexual intercourse.

34. Abstinence- usually has retained it’s original meaning “to refrain from” but while it was originally used to give up alcohol it now pertains to refraining from sexual intercourse.

35. Cute- used to mean “shrewd and perceptive” but now means “adorable.”

36. Diddle- at one time it meant “to swindle” or “to waste time over trifling.” Can now be a vulgar term “To copulate.”

37. Ass- once meant “donkey” but can be used for “bum” or as a common insult.

38. Thong- originally pertained to strip of leather usually on the sandals, later came to designate a flip flop, and is now referred to as a sleazy and very uncomfortable type of underwear or swimsuit bottom. (Please don’t wear one.)

39. Dick- has always been a nickname for Richard as well as referred to “detective,” but has come to be a slang term for “penis” as well as a common insult term toward a guy.

40. Orgy- originally this described any kind of gross indulgence, but nowadays it mostly describes those of a sexual nature, especially when it refers to groups.

41. Prick- originally meant either “something sharp” or “getting hurt by something sharp” but now could be used in slang for “penis” as well as a common insult term toward a guy.

42. Making Whoopie- in the early 20th century this meant “living luxuriously” now means about the same as “making love” in the dirtiest context.

43. Hypochondria- this word’s meaning has changed dramatically over the years. Though nowadays it refers to unusually excessive concern for one’s health or tendency to fear or imagine having illnesses you don’t actually have but this usage dates back to Victorian times. In ancient Greece, this referred to describe the pain arising from a malarial infection on the liver and spleen. Centuries later its meaning changed to “depression.” And in the mid-20th century was used as a euphemism for other more serious mental illnesses like borderline personality disorder and hebephrenia.

44. Douche- derived from the French word for “shower” and has been described as a cleansing flood of liquid rushing into an orifice. Nowadays, well, it’s a liquid which a woman squirts to wash her privates (and that’s all I’ll say) as well as a common insult term. In usage could mean “an abrupt shock to nerves, emotions, or awareness.”

45. Dyke- originally derived from the Dutch term for “ditch” now means “lesbian.”

46. Yiffer- originally meant “a stout pole used in scaffolding” until the furries came along. (Don’t ask.)

47. Nuclear- used to mean just “central” like in a nucleus before the Atom Bomb, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, or nuclear disasters.

48. Toilet- used to describe one’s dressing, cleaning, and grooming process. Nowadays it refers to the essential fixture used for relieving oneself which flushes to expel one’s bodily waste.

49. Hump- at one time meant “to exert oneself” or “move swiftly” now is just used as a sex euphemism referring to dog mating rituals. (If you’ve seen what some dogs do with one another, you’ll know what I mean.)

50. Slut- used to refer to a woman who’s “messy looking” now it’s a derogatory term for a sexually promiscuous woman.

51. Sexy- used to describe someone as “obsessed with sex” before it was used to denote someone as “sexually attractive.”

52. Rusty Trombone- while Oscar the Grouch actually meant an oxidized brass instrument, it can also refer to a sex act.

53. Spunk- though it nowadays means “courage, spirit, and determination” it used to be associated with lewd feminine behavior.

54. Fag- once used as a slang term for “cigarette.” Nowadays it’s short for the famous homophobic slur.

55. Vibrator- used to describe a couple of gadgets, one used in a barbershop to foam shaving cream, the other as a massage device to relax, cure headaches etc. Nowadays it’s a gadget that does something completely different.

56. Incontinent- in Shakespeare’s day meant “cease from sexual abstinence.” Now it’s defined as “losing control of one’s bowels.”

57. Butt- once meant “boat.” Nowadays means “rear end” or “end of a cigarette.”

58. Mistress- used to mean the boss’ wife, a female boss, or “Mrs.” in general. Nowadays it refers to the “other woman” in an adulterous tryst.

59. Aroused- used in the past tense to “arise.”  Now it’s just sexual excitement.

60. Condom- was once used as a short form for “condominium.” Now it’s referred to as a contraceptive.

61. Naz, Nazi- in Germany, this was a nickname for Ignaz (Ignatius), until the 1920s.

62. Jap- used to be a nickname for Jasper, but please don’t call anyone this nowadays especially a Japanese person or a Jewish woman. Still, it has a lot more definitions than that.

63. Negro- was once the only decent term to describe blacks until the late 1960s. Now it’s just either a racist or political incorrect term, with the possible exception in Latin America.

64. Spastic- originally it meant “frantic” or “manic” as it still does in the US. But in the UK it’s the equivalent of the R-word.

65. Sod- used to mean “clod of earth” but is now another British insult.

66. Nothing- though usually a harmless word meaning zero, in Shakespeare’s day it referred to a woman’s naughty bits or her virginity. (As in Much Ado About Nothing).

67. Nunnery- let’s just say that when Hamlet told Ophelia “Get thee to a nunnery” he may have meant a different kind of house full of women but not of piety and chastity kind. Also, with Anti-Catholic sentiment growing in England, “nunnery” became an euphemism for “brothel.”

68. Fishmonger- though it could mean “someone who sells fish,” it could also be referred to in Shakespeare’s time as a “pimp.”

69. Dude- though it just means “guy” from the 1960s, it’s older meanings ranged from “city slicker,” “fancy boy,” or “gay blade.” Definitely don’t want to call a guy from the 19th century that because it was considered an insult.

70. Hobby Horse- though it now refers to a child’s plaything, in 1700s, it could either mean “obsession” or “prostitute.”

71. Horns- though it could mean the protuberances of an antelope or reference of sexual arousal (like horny), it could be used as an Elizabethan reference pertaining to a guy getting cheated on signified by a bunny ears gesture.

72. Dork- though since the 1980s it’s a another term for “nerd,” before then it was a slang term for “penis.”

73. Schmuck- its original meaning is “fool” though it allegedly meant “penis.” Of course, it’s probably safe to say it means “dick” which can mean both. Still, you don’t want to call a Jew this.

74. Minion- though we associate with “henchman” it’s originally derived from the French “mignon” referring to certain attractive courtiers of the male specialty.

75. Gunsel- while we may associate it as “gun-wielding hoodlum” but before The Maltese Falcon, it referred to either a young boy kept for sexual purposes or a passive partner in anal intercourse. (And yes, I think one of The Maltese Falcon characters either has or is a gunsel in its original context.)

76. Punk- though it now means someone who’s either a juvenile delinquent, unfriendly homeless kid, or someone from the Punk Rock subculture in much of history it had many unsavory meanings. In Shakespeare’s time, it meant “prostitute, in the 1890s, it was slang to something similar to the original meaning of gunsel.

77. Orchid, Avacado, Testify- all these have a word origin which meant “testicle.” Now these are an exotic flower, a fruit used in guacamole, and to give legal testimony.

78. Funky- though most of us under fifty associate it with the Disco Era or something upbeat you can dance to, it was originally referred to the smell of a woman’s vagina.

79. Rape- though we’re more used to it referring to “sex with an unwilling partner,” there was once a broader context that meant “kidnapping” or “assault.” Could have also meant “kidnapping for sex,” or “marriage” in ancient times whether or not the actual sex was consensual afterwards (though it was probably questionable to say the least.) Also, Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock is about a girl getting an unwilling haircut, not actually being raped as we know it. (Seriously it is.)

80. Hooker- though today and for much of history has meant “prostitute” in the old studio wrestling days it meant to describe wrestlers of legitimate wrestling backgrounds so was used as a compliment.

Advertising Lost in Translation

Many time we don’t realize that we live in a world of globalized markets where products are sold all around the world. In some ways this is good for business. Yet, in other ways, it gets really hard to advertise, especially with the certain cultures and languages are involved, often with rather funny and disturbing results. An advertisement in one country will not always have the same effect in the other. And sometimes some slogans may be a country’s equivalent to something offensive or negative and won’t waste the time. So here’s a list of advertising gone lost in translation. (Viewer discretion is advised and it might not be safe for work.)

1. Any time there’s an advertisement with a before and after picture going left to right in the Middle East. Middle Easterners usually read from right to left so presenting an ad like this is telling them your product sucks or cause what it’s supposed to alleviate. Thus, it’s like diet pills and weight loss plans make you fat, medicine makes you sick, and cleaning products make everything dirty to someone in Saudi Arabia.

2. The origin of Exxon was a move to prevent this during a planned consolidation of the Enco and Esso brands of Standard Oil of New Jersey. It was originally going to be Enco until it was learned “enco” means “stalled car” in Japanese.

3. Any product containing the word “mist” and sold in Germany. In that country, it means manure. Interestingly, the word “mist” actually comes from the Old German word originally referring to the steam rising from a fresh pile of dung. Also, Clariol’s Mist Stick bears some similarity to the German “mistuck” meaning “bitch” or “piece of manure.”

4. The Japanese have a popular milky soft drink named Calpis (sounds similar to “cow piss”) and energy drinks named Pocari Sweat and its spin-off Pet Sweat.

5. The case with a port called Cockburn’s Dry Tang. Of course, this may have funny implications already in English. Yet, in Sweden “tang” is a term used for seaweed and as an obscure term for vagina. Also, didn’t help matters when it was changed to “Cockburn’s Dry Cock.” Also, the Cockburn name is said to be pronounced “co-burns” and is said to derive from an Old English personal name meaning “warrior with black sword.” Still, doesn’t help inciting shits and giggles though.

6. Any product with “vic” in it and sold in Germany where it sounds like “fick” meaning “fuck.”

7. Sega has two cases in Italy and Sweden. In Sweden it means to procrastinate, do something slowly, and tough when it comes to food. In Italy, it means “to masturbate.”

8. There is a Latin American bread brand named Bimbo after its mascot a bear. Of course, call any feminist a bimbo in America and you’d get a very different reaction.

9. There is a German vitamin-boosted hot chocolate mix named Scho-vit. It’s obvious why it’s not popular in English-speaking countries.

10. The Polish piano maker Calisa sells under a different name in Finland since it’s similar to the Finnish word for “long underpants.”

11. I wonder if the light bulb company Osram ever knew that their name meant “I will shit (on something)” in Polish.

12. There is a shaving cream in Norway called, “Barber Skum.” Kind of an insult to English-speaking barbers.

13. There is a Barf Detergent in Iran with “barf” meaning “snow” in Persian. Of course, in English it pertains to why someone might need detergent.

14. A literal translation of a men’s underwear brand in Taiwan means “little yellow pansy.”

15. There is a bus company named Fucker in Germany and one in Switzerland named FART (listed on a travel guide as “that’s the company name, not the means of propulsion.”)

16. There is a South African truck line named Tata, a slang for breasts in the US.

17. It’s always been hard to translate a brand name into an acceptable one in foreign countries, more difficult if it’s from a different writing system:

a. Some Coca Cola mistranslations in Chinese range from “bite the wax tadpole” to “bite the wax-fattened mare.”

b. A Pepsi slogan that said “Come alive! You’re the Pepsi Generation!” was allegedly mistranslated in Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead!”

c. The Ben and Jerry flavor “Chunky Monkey” was mistranslated in Japanese as “Chunks of Monkey.”

18. Cars have a similar problem as well with names, especially marketing in Latin America:

a. Originally the Ford Cortina was going to be the Ford Caprino until the company learned that “caprino” means “goat-like” or “goaty” in Spanish. Though they didn’t know that “cortina” is Spanish for “curtain.”

b. Honda once introduced a model named “Fitta” until they learned it was crude term for female genitalia in Norwegian and Swedish. Was also going to be used with the slogan, “It looks small on the outside, but is huge once you get in.” Was renamed “Jazz” and “Fit” according to market.

c. Strangely the Buick Lacrosse was renamed the Buick Allure in Canada since “crosse” is Quebecois slang for “fraud, swindle, rip-off” as well as “to jerk off.” It was later restored to its original name and GM began offering replacement nameplates.

d. No one wanted to buy the Chevy Nova in Spanish speaking countries since “nova” means “doesn’t go.”

e. The Nissan Moco and Mazda Laputa could be seen in Spanish as the Nissan Snot and Mazda Whore.

f. The Mitshibishi Pajero was marketed the Montero or Shogun because “pajero” was Spanish slang for “wanker.”

g. The Toyota MR 2 failed to sell in France because it’s similar to “est merdeux” meaning “shitty.”

h. Chrysler did significant poorly when trying to sell in China because its company’s name was translated in Mandarin Chinese to “about to die.”

i. Bad marketing naming could be in English speaking countries as well. For instance, take the Nissan Cedric. “Cedric” was said to be an Australian slang term for homosexual. To which a Nissan exec said, “Australia has many homosexuals, therefore we shall sell many cars!”

19. While KFC’s slogans are “We do chicken right” and “Finger-Lickin’ Good” is translated to Chinese “It’s right that we become prostitutes” and “Eat Your Fingers Off.”

20. There is a major canned vegetable company named Sodd in Norway. Of course, it’s an archaic word for soup.

21. Taco once sold the chili cheese burrito as the “Chilito” until they learned it was Hispanic slang for “small penis.”

22. Though Sharwoods Bundh is a curry sauce, “bundh” is Punjabi slang for “backside.”

23. Though we know it as the appliance company BEKO, it’s actually named Arcelick in its native Turkey.

24. While Pixar may seem a clean name in English, in Catalan it means, “to urinate.”

25. The location bookmarking app Rego got publicity in Brazil after it was found, “rego” means “drain” or “gutter” in Portuguese.

26. The Perdue Farms’ slogan “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” was once said to be translated in Mexico as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.” And it may not be a mistranslation.

27. IKEA has plenty of these since they don’t relabel their products for foreign markets, no matter how stupid they sound in local languages. A few examples:

a. While Gutvick is a town in Sweden and a decent name to brand a bunk bed, in German it bears similarity to “guter fick” meaning “good fuck.”

b. While “Frak” is a mirror brand, in the US it is a  name for a set of mirrors in Battlestar Galactica as well as used as a verb describing as a gas and oil extraction process and short for “hydraulic fracturing,” “hydro-fracking,” or “fracking.” (Contrary to what oil and gas companies say, hydraulic fracturing has never been proven as a clean technology. Rather, it’s a controversial practice getting a lot of opposition from environmentalists and scientists alike.)

c. People in Finland were angry when IKEA named a toilet brush “Viren” also happening to be the last name of a legendary Finnish runner. Not to mention, it means viruses in German.

d. While “Kimme” may be a name of an IKEA chair, it also means “ass crack” in German.

e. While in Sweden “Jerker” may be a male name, “Farfull” means “speedy,” and “Lessebo” is a name of a town, all these sound funny in English.

f. Though “Sarna” is a name for an IKEA chair, it means “scabies” in Spanish.

g. Though “Hoven” may be a Swedish town and a perfectly fine name for a carpet, in Czech it’s the plural genitive form of the word meaning “shit.”

h. In IKEA “Trampa” is a doormat while it means “crap” in Portuguese and “trap” in Spanish.

28. Marketers of Colegate ran into problems when initially advertising in Latin America as “colgate” translates to “hang yourself” in voseante varieties in Spanish.

29. The slogan for vacuum company Electrolux “Nothing sucks like Electrolux” with very negative connotation in the US.

3o. The logo of German ball bearings company reads FAG.

31. There was once a security firm named Wackenut, named after its founder.

32. In Iceland there is an apartment company named “Fagmenn” (professionals), and there are advertising signs saying “Krap” (promoting slushies).

33. A Korean games company once launched a dictionary video game named “Touch Dic.”

34. There was once London nightclub named “Huje” which means “dicks” in Polish. (And it wasn’t one of those places.)

35. There was once a German auto-parts company named KKK that shares initials with the American racist hate group and a Philippine revolutionary group.

36. A proposed tourism slogan in Ireland was “Come for the Craic.” (And yes, it’s pronounced like crack which is Irish slang for fun but wouldn’t go well with Americans if you’ve seen The Wire or Canadians if you’ve seen Rob Ford.)

37. It’s said there’s a Spanish business named “Servicio de Hosteleria Industrial de Terrassa” (Terrassa’s Industrial Catering Service) which uses the acronym S.H.I.T. in its sign.

38. The animation studio, “Studio Khara” was named after the Greek words for “happiness” and “joy.” It also means “shit” in Arabic.

39. There was an Irish pub in Australia called Pug Mahones which is Irish Gaelic for “Kiss my arse.”

40. An Australian tourist ad saying “Where the bloody hell are you?” was banned in Britain and the US.