US Elections: A Guide to Election Lingo

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Melkote Ramaswamy
Melkote Ramaswamy
Melkote Ramaswamy

By Melkote Ramaswamy

Democrats and Republicans nominated their candidates for President in July and the country is gearing up for the General Elections. As November 8 approaches, the election fever rises and stays until after the results. To follow the election cycle intelligently, one needs to decipher the seasonal words that are unique to the process and period.

The following vocabulary is an attempt to educate the reader to help understand the dynamics of a general election. We have selected words that are so rarely and sparingly used that you may have had to stop your thinking and refer to a dictionary to digest before proceeding.

The listing is alphabetical.

  • Beyond the pale—unacceptable, outrageous
  • Birther—one who doubts the legitimacy of birth
  • Blue State—traditionally votes Democrat
  • Come to Jesus moment—critical moment—turning point/facing reality
  • Crony Capitalism—an economy in which success depends on relationships between business and government
  • Demagogue—a political leader who appeals to popular desires instead of being rational
  • Détente (Truce)—Easing of hostilities
  • Dog whistle—sending out cryptic/hidden message?
  • Doubledown– reinforce/reiterate/not backing off
  • Dyspeptic—irritable/bad-tempered/touchy
  • Electoral College—made up of all 50 states with each state allotted a number of votes based on demographics. It requires 270 electoral votes to become President.
  • Enchilada—the big prize
  • Endorse—declare one’s public approval
  • Establishment—Organization/Enterprise
  • Excoriate—criticize severely/admonish
  • Flip-Flop—change stance/position on issues
  • Gerrymandering—manipulate boundaries of an electoral district
  • Gotcha question—entrap the interviewee
  • Intellectual myopia –shortsightedness
  • Kum-ba-ya—uplifting moment through camaraderie
  • Landslide—winning by a large margin
  • Looking for “Hail Mary”—Miracle: last-pitch effort/desperate act
  • Malarkey—nonsense, absurd
  • Mea Culpa—apology
  • Megalomaniac—one who is obsessed with one’s own power
  • Meme—text copied and spread by Internet users
  • Misogynist—person who dislikes/despises women
  • Misspoke—made a mistake in speaking—That’s not what I meant
  • Narcissistic—highly self-centered
  • Nihilism—skepticism, pessimism
  • Optics—perception/appearance
  • Pandering—to appease
  • Peddling—promoting, perpetuating
  • Plurality/Majority—number of votes larger than another candidate but not the majority (more than half)
  • Pugilistic—one who fights with his fists, a boxer
  • Pyrrhic Victory—victory that results in defeat
  • Quid pro quo –pay for play; Exchange of money for services or privileges
  • Quixotic—unrealistic and impractical
  • Red State—Traditionally Republican
  • Shellac–wiped ou/defeated decisively
  • Sleazy–Corrupt/immoral behavior
  • Softening—dilute the original message, taking a less aggressive or hardline stance
  • Sucker-punch—unexpected punch or blow
  • Surrogate—substitute/proxy—one who speaks on behalf of a candidate.
  • Sycophant—one who uses flattery to get what he wants.
  • Swing State/Battleground State—can go either Republican or Democrat
  • Throwing kitchen sink—throwing every conceivable item
  • Trolled—provoked
  • Upend—invalidate/overthrow/turn upside down
  • Uptick—a rise/increase
  • Visceral—deep-seated/instinctive
  • Wonky—crooked/faulty/not functioning
  • Xenophobia—Intense irrational dislike of other countries

Now that you understand everything about the election lingo and the candidates, go ahead and exercise your privilege—Vote.

(Melkote Ramaswamy is a writer, speaker and author of An Immigrant celebrates America (University of Indianapolis Press 2007) and a frequent contributor to INDIA New England News.)

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