Getting Wolfowitzed

ON LANGUAGE

By Philologos

Published April 15, 2005, issue of April 15, 2005.
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‘Getting Wolfowitzed: Bolkestein as villain” was the caption of a column by John Vinocur in the March 29 International Herald Tribune. It’s not the first time that “to Wolfowitz” has been used as a verb in the English language, but it’s different from the other times.

But first, who is Bolkestein and how was he Wolfowitzed?

Frits Bolkestein, a former Dutch politician and Cabinet minister now serving as European Union commissioner, recently has come under attack in the wealthier European countries for issuing them a directive to open up all jobs in their economies to migrants from poorer E.U. members. As Vinocur puts it, blue-collar workers in places such as France, Britain, Spain and Italy are up in arms at the thought that they will have “to defend la patrie from Bolkestein’s hordes of invading Czech plumbers,” who will take away jobs, it is feared, and drive down wages.

But in addition to a policy problem, Bolkestein has a name problem. In Holland, the name Bolkestein is perfectly normal sounding. Yet in many European countries it sounds not only foreign but also — think of Finkelstein, Goldstein, Rubenstein, Rosenstein — characteristically Jewish. And although Frits Bolkestein is no more Jewish than is George W. Bush, he has — because of his name — Vinocur writes, “gotten Wolfowitzed. Over the past months, just as [Paul] Wolfowitz before him had been marked as the plotter behind a world clash of civilizations, Bolkestein [has become] the sinister personification of a perceived cabal to tear apart Europe’s social protections.” As French politician Philippe de Villiers put it the other day, “Bolkestein, Frankenstein, un million de chomeurs en plus” — “Bolkestein or Frankenstein, it means another million unemployed.”

Vinocur does not explicitly say that this “cabal” is perceived as being Jewish. Nor do politicians like de Villiers. Yet they imply as much — as did Bolkestein himself when he recently remarked about his name and the reaction to it: “[It] has been misused. There’s an element of xenophobia in all of this, not to say more.”

For “more,” read “antisemitism.”

For Vinocur, then, to be “Wolfowitzed” means to have a Jewish-sounding name that is played upon by one’s political opponents in order to suggest that one’s policies are the result of one’s real or alleged Jewishness. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, nominee for World Bank president, is of course, not the only Jew to whom this has been done in recent years. Indeed “Wolfowitzing,” which began in earnest with the invasion of Iraq, is generally a procedure involving several names at once. Any mention of the neoconservative “cabal” that is widely alleged to have gotten America into Iraq is almost always sure to include additional names such Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Abram Shulsky, Norman Podhoretz and others of Jewish provenance, the insinuation being that pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli interests are behind American foreign policy.

“To Wolfowitz” in Vinocur’s sense is to behave as Paul Wolfowitz has been behaved toward; this makes it the opposite of previous uses of the verb, which mean to behave like Paul Wolfowitz. Thus, for example, the first writer on record to have spoken of “Wolfowitzing,” Australian journalist Tim Blair, accused his colleague Kerry O’Brien two years ago of having been “Wolfowitzed” about Iraq — i.e., of have been taken in by false claims meant to justify the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Used in this way, “Wolfowitzing” can be defined as politically deceiving the public by means of a deliberate manipulation of the facts.

Many other politicians have found themselves turned into verbs. “Bushed,” “Cheyneyed,” “Clintoned,” “Kerreyed,” “Deaned,” “Kissingered” — the list is long and growing. American English, that most flexible and inventive of languages, now allows you to verbalize not only almost any noun or noun phrase (e.g., “to shoehorn,” “to stonewall,’ “to blindside”) but almost any name, as well.

Few if any of these name verbs will survive, for the simple reason that they do not function independently of the person from whom they have been coined. To “Clinton” means no more than to resemble Bill Clinton, just as “to Kerry’ means to resemble John Kerry. It wouldn’t make much sense to say you were “Clintoned” by a friend or ‘Kerreyed’ by a next-door neighbor, which is why such expressions will not outlast Clinton’s or Kerry’s own public careers.

However, to “Wolfowitz” does function independently of Paul Wolfowitz; this is why one can say that Frits Bolkestein has been “Wolfowitzed” by Europeans. As used by John Vinocur, it is even a useful neologism. We don’t need a new word for public manipulating or prevaricating. But if “Wolfowitzing” means using a Jewish-sounding name to make antisemitic innuendoes, this is something that has lacked a word until now. As such, “to Wolfowitz” might have a future. I propose we check it out again in a year or two, when Paul Wolfowitz has been comfortably ensconced for a while at the World Bank.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com.






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