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.

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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