Ruminations about the label “Wing Nut”

I never cared much for William Safire’s political views, and often skipped his op-ed pieces in the New York Times where he was for many years the token house conservative, but I loved his column On Language in the NYT Magazine and looked forward to reading it every Sunday. His death on September 27 came as a surprise to me since he had written a column just weeks before, and the paper just said he was on hiatus. I guess he was. I miss him.

I thought of him yesterday when I blogged about Republican Congressman Nathan Deal from Georgia asking to see the President’s birth certificate. In that blogpost I wrote: “I have many fine, smart, and knowledgeable friends who are Republicans, and wouldn’t call one of them a wing nut.”

I was immediately faced with the kind of issue Safire often addressed, how to spell a neologism, especially one from the world of politics. Should it be wing-nut, wingnut, or what I finally went with, wing nut? All three are in use.

The word, of course, originally refers to a piece of hardware, a nut with wings that can be turned without the use of tools.

In its metaphorical usage in American politics it refers to a person of extreme political views, usually conservative. It is usually considered disparaging, and in my post I was careful not to call any particular person a wing nut. In my youth the operative term for a person with extreme views was that they were a member of the “lunatic fringe.”

I imagine the “wing” in “wing nut” comes from the far wing of a party, and the nut comes from the disparaging part, as in “he’s nuts.”  The term is often used to refer to right-wing talk radio hosts, and their TV counterparts.

That it is only the right-wing (or should it be right wing?) that get to be called wing nuts got me ruminating (always dangerous) about political labels in general and how they seem to be party specific. For example, I have heard of “dyed in the wool” Republicans, but never “dyed in the wool” Democrats. The only wool that is used against Democrats is “wooly-headed” (meaning vague or muddled) but never against Republicans. Is it because Republicans are never vague or muddled? I wouldn’t think so.

Republicans can be “staunch,” but not Democrats. I wonder why. Are they too vague and muddled to be staunch? I guess I better quit all this wondering before I go all Andy Rooney on you. I wouldn’t want you to think I’m a wing nut.

(November 13 update:  I just learned that there is a AA baseball team called the Wichita Wingnuts, which caught my eye since my mother grew up and went to college in Wichita, Kansas, which also has of late seems to have more than their share of wing nuts in the sense described above.)

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3 thoughts on “Ruminations about the label “Wing Nut”

  1. >Rick,The operative word, I think, is "nut". Like "nutcase" or "just plain nuts". I admittedly would call an extreme right wing a wing nut though I am hard pressed or can be more apologetic for what some on the right wing might refer to as a wing nut–like a Michael Moore or a Ralph Nader. Its all so relative, but fun. It ceases to be fun when the name calling is vitriolic and mean spirited.

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