Why Is “Trope” So Popular on the Internet?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith tweeted this a few minutes ago:

Let’s talk words for a bit. The reason this popped up today is because of Ilhan Omar’s tweets about AIPAC. Rep. Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, offered a typical response: “It is shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.’ ” The word trope, in my experience, mostly seems to be used the way Engel uses it here: when you need something a little fuzzy that doesn’t quite say what you’re really thinking. In this case, for example, what Engel really means is slur or conspiracy theory or something of the sort. But that’s a little harsh for a fellow Democrat, so trope it is.

In this case, though, it’s especially unsuitable. Here’s the dictionary definition:

trope [trohp] | noun any literary or rhetorical device, as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, that consists in the use of words in other than their literal sense.

In response to a tweet about US politicians defending Israel, Omar tweeted “It’s all about the Benjamins baby 🎶” and then made clear just whose money she was talking about: “AIPAC!” That’s as literal as it gets. What’s more, the historical use of this innuendo revolves around secret Jewish money and is the farthest thing from a metaphor you could imagine. On the contrary, it’s a longstanding and quite literal belief that Jews control vast sums of money and use it to bribe and control politicians all over the world.

So I’d recommend staying away from lazy uses of trope unless it’s truly what you mean. Like this lazy bastard, for example.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate