When Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton told her audience at a fundraiser in New York City last week that “you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” defenders of Donald Trump immediately pounced, comparing the moment to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks in 2012.
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But in the aftermath of the comments, attention is being paid to the uniqueness of Clinton’s word choice.
Ben Zimmer, a linguist and lexicographer writing for Language Log, a blog hosted by the Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, compared the phrase to “parade of horribles,” an expression that evolved from events in which early New Englanders dressed in garish costumes and sardonically marched through local towns.
In this case, the line appears to be an original creation of Clinton and her team, though the New York fundraiser was not the first time she used it.
In an interview with Yonit Levi of Israel’s Channel 2 on Sept. 8 -- a day before the fundraiser -- Clinton made an almost identical statement.
“I’d say you can take Trump supporters and put them in two big baskets,” Clinton said. “There are what I would call the deplorables -- you know, the racists and the haters and the people who are drawn because they think somehow he’s going to restore an America that no longer exists.”
Additionally, in a Sept. 4 story, Politico noted that Clinton had also employed the terminology during an earlier fundraiser in California.
Politico wrote: “Clinton divides Trump voters into two baskets… the everyday Republicans -- her targets -- and what she called ‘the deplorables’ -- the ‘alt-right’ crowd she excoriates and has no hope of wooing.”
A review of Clinton’s speeches throughout the 2016 campaign cycle finds no use of the word “basket” in this way. As for “deplorable,” Clinton never utilized the word as a noun but did apply it as a description of the effects of Trump’s campaign rhetoric while answering questions from the media in Wisconsin in March.
“[Trump] has incited negative and really mean spirited language and actions and I said he is like a political arsonist, he has set some fires and people have acted in ways that I think are deplorable and therefore he has to be held responsible,” Clinton said.
The adjective “deplorable” was also included in responses to world events in Department of State releases while Clinton was secretary of state. Clinton characterized two separate suicide attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2011 as “deplorable” and “deplorable violence.”
She also labeled the 15-year prison Cuban prison sentence of American contractor Alan Gross as “deplorable” and used the word to describe the state of public school libraries in a bill she sponsored in 2007 while a U.S. senator from New York.