Trump Doubles Down on “Schlong”, New Truth Movement Emerges

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I wanted to follow up on my overnight post noting that rapidly emerging “schlong” revisionist analysis of Donald Trump’s statement which now – a mere dozen hours later – has emerged into a full-fledged “schlong truth” movement. Trump himself is doubling down on “schlong” and has enlisted Jeff Greenfield who is vouching for the normalness and non-sexual meaning of the phrase. It was unclear to me at first from Greenfield’s tweet whether he was basing this on personal experience as a New York Trump contemporary (Greenfield is only slightly older than Trump but, according to Wikipedia, grew up in tonier Manhattan, not the outer boroughs or Long Island) or based on new research. But I got a reply from Greenfield below which clears up any question on that front.

Since our initial post we have had a number of TPM Readers (generally men born between 1940 and 1952 in Queens and Long Island) who have clear testimony about what we might call the “Trump/Schlong” usage (aging Jewish male readership finally comes in handy!).

For instance, TPM Reader BR explains the following …

I also grew up on Long Island at the same time as Trump (born in 1949). I too remember “got shlonged” as a common expression (usually in sports) with no sexual overtone. My only criticism of Trump’s usage would be that in my recollection the term applies to a team, not an individual. “We got shlonged” sounds right, “I got shlonged” totally wrong. “He got shlonged” doesn’t seem as right as “they got shlonged,” but the difference isn’t as clear-cut to me.

I also think that the everyone probably has the etymology wrong. The more likely etymology is from Yiddish & German schlingen, meaning to devour food. (I know the verb from the Yiddish song “Un az der rebbe zingt” with “Un az der rebbe esst, shlingn alle khasidim,” although the version I see on the internet is different.) The simple past tense of this word in German (that tense doesn’t exist in Yiddish) is schlang.

So not only did Trump not make the word up, not only is it not vulgar, but it may not even come from Yiddish.

Just last night I finished yet another wonderful and engrossing new book by New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (“How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee“). I have had a love affair with New Testament biblical criticism, with a strong historicist bent, ever sense I met and learned so much in college from one of my two favorite professors, the great historian John Gager – one of just a handful of people in my life who really taught me how to think. One of the main things I learned after years of studying this subject is to sift for the earliest sources, use various evidentiary standards like the ‘criterion of dissimilarity‘, the ‘criterion of multiple attestation‘ and so forth. Setting aside all the technical language, this basically means finding multiple sources/testimonies which do not in fact rely on each other, preferring those that are closest to the time of the events in question and privileging those which either seem indifferent to or run against the presumed biases of the sources of the testimony.

This is part of why BR’s testimony is so interesting to me. It seems clear to me – based on BR’s testimony and ones from at least half a dozen other people – that in the 1950s in Queens and the near-adjoining parts of Long Island “schlonged” was a known phrase, often used in sports references, and at least from the youthful memories of our witnesses could be used without the users having a strong conscious sense of any sexual meaning behind it. The frequency with which it is remembered as being mainly a sports metaphor is notable.

At the same time, from emails, Facebook discussions and other sources I’ve seen numerous Jews, people with deep familiarity with Yiddish, saying they have never, ever heard the phrase used in this way. And as BR notes – from what seems to be a fairly deep familiarity with Yiddish – it’s possible that it may not even be Yiddish. Or perhaps, more specifically and more likely, it may be a neologism derived from Yiddish by non-Yiddish speakers. (In an inverse manner, some scholars believe we can isolate some of the oldest, pre-literary Christian traditions in the New Testament in part on the basis of Semitic grammatical and syntactical structures which seem to have been imported from Aramaic into Greek.)

We have another account from TPM Reader BD who grew up in this general area in the 60s and 70s, in other words a good ten to twenty years after the putative Queens/Long Island schlong era.

I grew up on Long Island too, 20 minutes from the Queens border. I’m not Jewish but between friends and my father, who was a former shabbos goy, I’ve heard and used Yiddish all my life. Schlong has, in LI/Queens usage, no meaning other than penis. I don’t really remember hearing the verb schlonged much if at all, but even if it was commonly used the connection to penis is unmistakable. Yes, it would be a milder way of saying “fucked.”

TPM Reader SR is similar, exact geographical location but a generation younger …

I grew up in Queens in the 1960s and ’70s. My home was in Jamaica Estates, blocks from the Trump house on Midland Parkway, which I would walk past on my way to the F train stop at 179th st.

No one I knew or hung out with used “schlong” to mean “beat” or “defeat.” The term was not common at all but if it came up it was clearly understood as a Yiddish word for penis. You wouldn’t use it in polite company.

Then there’s TPM Reader HR

I grew up on Long Island, in a place called Elmont. Graduate high school in 1992. So I am significantly younger than Trump. My high school was also fairly diverse for LI. White, Blacks (African-American and Carribbean), South Asians, East Asians, Southeast Asians, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhist.

We heard “schlong” a lot. It wasn’t used just as a synonym for “penis,” but a “big, Black penis.” It was radicalized and offensive. To be “Schlonged,” which wasn’t common, but not unheard of, would be the equivalent of saying someone got raped/sodomized by a Black man.

I’ve not been exposed to a linguistic change that becomes more racist over time, so while I’m almost a generation later than Trump in Long Island, my suspicion is that his usage is akin to what I know.

I found his comment deeply offensive, more so than the bathroom comment, and didn’t understand why it didn’t raise more ire. I wonder now if it really is a regionalism, so it wouldn’t even rise to the level of dog whistle.

Now, as HR notes, he’s quite a bit younger than Trump. What’s notable in HR’s account is that he either had never heard the verb use of ‘schlonged’ or only rarely. But based on the noun’s meaning would infer it meant a racialized version of being raped.

Finally, there’s TPM Reader TS – same age but from the Los Angeles area.

Yeah, I’d heard the word before, only in Los Angeles, same era. I knew what the root word meant, so the verb form of the word was easy to interpret. At that time, dick was the equivalent word used by us goyim. If I’d say “You got dicked.” You’d take it to mean that “You got fucked.” To go, then, to “destroyed” as a meaning, you’d have to go through “You got fucked.” to “You got destroyed.” or “You got ripped off.” first and then retranslated it a second time.

My point. It started out as a dick and didn’t get any more polite no matter how many times it was remeaninged, retensed or reinterpreted.

Now I did hear back from Jeff Greenfield, who Trump has – seemingly to Jeff’s chagrin – roped in as his schlong fact witness …

(sigh). First, this is my last venture into Yiddish linguistics.(Dana MIlbank’s WaPo piece was brilliant, by the way).
Second, it’s a term I’ve been familiar with more or less forever. My old boss Dave Garth–whose vocabulary was colorful in many languages–used it all the time to talk about someone getting clobbered. It turns out that Frank Rich among several others agrees; you likely saw that Jake Tapper unearthed a 2011 NPR (!!!) interview where there’s reference to the Mondale-Ferraro ticket “getting schlonged” in ’84.
What’s startling is how many New Yorkers say they NEVER heard the phrase without its original phallic meaning. Go figure…
Two other points:
1) Trump’s revulsion about HRC using a bathroom is the REAL jaw-dropper here. You;d need a panel of shrinks to deal with that.
2). The venomous, obscene, rants that filled by Twitter feed–from Trump-ists and Trumpophobes, etc–is profoundly unsettling. I’ve long known, of course, that anonymity enables such behavior, butI have not experienced it until now so directly. (I have gained hundreds of followers, most of whom i will have to block, because of their repellant language).

To sum it up with no double entendre–gevalt!

Based on all the evidence, what seems clear is that in a certain era (say 1945 to 1965) and in a certain region (Queens and adjoining Long Island) this was a commonly used phrased, most often used in a sports context, which meant getting clobbered or beaten. The available evidence also suggests that it was limited to this region. (The odd man out here is Frank Rich, who fits the age profile but grew up in Washington, DC. He’s been in the generational milieu in New York long enough, however, that he perhaps picked it up atmospherically as adult.) It even seems possible that the Yiddish derivation of this usage may even be in question. What seems most likely is that this was (as I speculated yesterday) a particular Queens/Long Island Yiddish-derived neologism that sprung up mid-century but also died out within a generation or so. But it’s still remembered by men who knew and used it at that time.

All this said, even if men of this age used it without a conscious sexual meaning, it’s hard to imagine it would be difficult to unpack the original sexual derivation – just as many of us today say “screwed” or “sucked.” But it’s just as clear that many men from that era did use it and didn’t think of it having a sexual context. One might also counter, aren’t these men in their 60s and 70s just more tone-deaf to sexually offensive phrases? That is definitely possible. Indeed, a generational component goes without saying. I will leave that analysis to others.

Meanwhile, in The New Republic, Jeet Heer makes the extra-textual argument that even if we accept schlong revisionism as a historical matter we cannot see the incident outside the context of Trump being a sexist, racist asshole. Indeed, anyone should know that whatever “schlonged” means, “schlong” means penis. And this is just not a way to refer to the first and still only competitive female candidate for President. I have no disagreement with that way of looking at the controversy.

Still, I think the general finding holds up: that in a specific era and geographical region, the verb use of ‘schlong’ had a specific and not consciously sexualized meaning, which is virtually unattested or totally unattested among Yiddish speakers or people familiar with Yiddish outside that geographical area or even inside it only a couple decades later.

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