The Genesis of 'Isms'


Words do matter, but they don’t stand still. A word is not a thing; it is something going on.

John McWhorter Linguistics Professor, Columbia University


A person espousing the ideas of liberal thinkers, in the vein of philosopher John Locke, can often be dismissed today as an unfeeling supporter of the status quo. “Neoliberal” began as a proud watchcry of progressives and is now a slur levelled by progressives at others. What, exactly, is a “progressive”? How has the label "Republican" been applicable to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump? Linguist John McWhorter explains how ordinary principles about how words' meanings change has intersected with the current social climate to make our political terms some of the most dynamic — and confusing — ones in the modern American language.

  • 2019 Festival

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The Genesis of 'Isms'

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