On Tuesday morning while making coffee, I noticed the following tweet from @publicradionerd in my notifications feed: “does @NealConan know he's (in?)famous now?”
I did not know; I was totally unaware, but intrigued. As I waited for the water to boil, the tweet led me (circuitously) to a piece on Allen B West — a site I'd never heard of — which quoted a piece from the Daily Mail, which quoted Donald Trump as saying that Hillary Clinton had been “schlonged” in the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination.
The Allen B West piece went on to define the word as Yiddish slang for the male appendage and noted that, used as a verb, it translated roughly to “shafted.” Back to the Daily Mail, which, in a near-heroic feat of research, declared the word had been used exactly once before in a political context. By me.
The coffee still wasn't ready.
“During a March 30, 2011 broadcast of National Public Radio's ‘Talk of the Nation' host Neal Conan reported the death of former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 1984 on Walter Mondale's ticket. After playing an inspiring sound bite of Ferraro's acceptance speech at that year's Democratic National Convention, Conan noted to panelist Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post that the Mondale-Ferraro duo, ‘went on to get schlonged at the polls.'”
My mind's eye immediately summoned an image of my executive producer, Sue Goodwin, rolling her eyes in exasperation in the control room. Not that I have any memory of this particular moment, but that's what she always did whenever I used terms she regarded as vulgar. “Vivid!” I'd reply, in an argument I almost always lost.
Not that time, I guess.
I sipped my coffee, sent a tweet saying I was surprised that the good and upright folks in transcripts knew how to spell the word, and figured I had secured my place as the political footnote of the day.
When I picked up my phone again a few hours later, I was startled to see the number 20 next to my notifications icon. Then even more startled when I realized it was actually 20+; apparently that's as high as Twitter can count.
The Donald's rant, various replies, then replies to replies had become A Story, maybe The Story for a few hours, and my schlong was right in the middle of the Twitter storm. All this despite the fact that my Twitter presence is minimal, to say the least.
Despite the best efforts of the aforementioned Sue Goodwin, I never kept up my social media responsibilities at NPR and regressed after I left. After the most recent Republican debate, I did send out a tweet to point out that Trump clearly had no clue when asked about the U.S. nuclear triad. I also wondered why none of the other candidates had called him on his ignorance of the basics of U.S. strategic operations. I got about five likes and three retweets.
After my dentist appointment, with the blizzard still in full fury, I sent out a tweet suggesting that Trump had misused the word. Clinton, after all, came pretty close to the Democratic nomination in 2008, while the Mondale/Ferraro ticket really had been schlonged in 1984.
I took advantage of the drive down to the dentist's office in Kona to meet up with some friends for an afternoon matinee of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” My silenced phone buzzed almost continuously. And when I checked in afterward, I understood why Twitter counts only as high as 20. Six jillion would take up too much room next to the icon. Among the many, many threads I saw, perhaps the dominant theme was that since the word had been used by an NPR host, no one, specifically Clinton, had the right to scold Trump.
Neither Trump nor I are Yiddish-speaking Jews, though we both grew up and lived in New York City, where we learned and delighted in colorful language. As my arguments with Goodwin suggest, I like to push the envelope in what is sometimes referred to as polite company. Like on the radio.
But since my previous use of this word has apparently provided Donald Trump a veneer of respectability for yet another in a disturbingly long series of nasty, hateful diatribes, I apologize.
Neal Conan is a news analyst for Hawaii Public Radio.
MORE FROM OPINION