Thursday, April 1, 2010

What to Call Tea Ba… ah, er… Tea People

It was pointed out to the recently that Tea Party Activists don’t appreciate the term “Tea Baggers.” I hadn’t really thought about the terminology much myself. I knew there was some reference to an obscure sexual preference, and I saw it discussed once in an out take from Sex in the City. I don’t really want to discuss it here. Go look for it on Wikipedia or something if you really want to know…

I put the whole thing in the same category as the iPad joke on Mad TV (see the video). Steve Job’s iPad is a few weeks old. The Mad TV clip is three years old. Maybe Jobs wishes there were more women in the room when the iPad was named. But no one’s going to change the name now. And iPad has become such a powerful brand name in such a short period of time that no one really thinks of any feminine products when you talk about the iPad now.

Where did the term Tea Bagger come from? There’s a picture out there in cyberspace from one of the early Tea Party events: a kid holding a sign that says "Tea Bag the Liberal Dems Before They Tea Bag You." What do you call people who “tea bag” people? Duh. Tea Baggers.

And the term stuck. I think some prominent figures in the movement used that term early on, but I can’t find the video. I could be wrong about that…

The movement has been around since February of 2008. And it’s made it into a few dictionaries. According the New Oxford American Dictionary, a Tea Bagger is "a person who protests President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as ‘Tea Party’ protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773)." The word was a finalist in 2009 in that dictionary's contest for "word of the year."

So the term Tea Bagger is probably here to stay. Tea People need to get used to it, and accept the fact that almost no one is thinking of some kind of sexual activity when they use the term (unless a Tea Bagger decides to remind everyone of that old – and now secondary – meaning for the term).

Is it a friendly term? That’s a different question. Obviously, any time you call an individual or a group by a name they don’t really like, that’s not a positive term. And to be perfectly honest, when I use the term Tea Bagger it’s not because of my profound respect for Sarah Palin’s intellectual abilities, or because I support the agenda of the Tea Party in general. I admit, Tea Bagger is a vaguely derisive term. And that’s okay on a blog. Blogs are supposed to have an agenda. Blogs are editorial in nature. I don’t like the Tea Party. You should be able to tell that when you read what I have to say.

That makes the term Tea Bagger inappropriate in a straight new context. So what term do you use on page one of a paper? I’ve seen Tea Partiers and Tea Partyers; I’m not sure who will settle the spelling dispute… Tea Party Activists? That probably also works. I actually like that better.

I occasionally write other places where my political opinion isn’t supposed to impact the content. So I use that term there. When you see the term “Tea Party Activists” in my writing you’ll know I’m trying to appear objective about the movement.

So if I use the term "tea bagger" from time to time, I have the dictionary definition mentioned above in mind, and it's not some weak attempt at a double entendre. I won't make too much of an effort to appear objective (by confining myself to terms like "tea party activists") very often. That would be hypocritical of me…