Subreddits and Newspeak: Decoding the Alt-Right

On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. On June 27, a forum was created on the social media website Reddit.com called r/The_Donald, an unofficial Donald Trump 2016 support forum.  From this point on, the discourse is difficult to track. Internet language transforms and evolves quickly because all language takes on a memetic quality, stacking references and subversions on top of each other until the language becomes totally inaccessible to those in the outgroup.

The vocabulary is filled with words that seem like english but reflect connotations that are unfamiliar and use grammar that changes how the words are used. Abbreviations like cuck, maga, sjw, and msm may not have been invented here, but their use is so ubiquitous as to make it difficult to penetrate the language from the outside. And this is somewhat the intention. Through the rules of the forum and the restrictions of the language, r/The_Donald keeps out any dissenters and limits the types of ideas that can be presented.

Limiting thoughts through language is essential to George Orwell’s idea of Newspeak in the novel 1984. Newspeak was a deliberate attempt to remove shades of meaning from discourse by removing words and limiting their usage. This is mirrored on r/The_Donald, leading to a culture that reinforces itself and allows for no rational discussion of opposing views.

The Definition of Newspeak

In Orwell’s world, all rational thought is created through language. When that language is limited, therefore, so are thoughts. He states in Principles of Newspeak that “Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.”(300) If any presidential candidate could be characterized by limited word choice and limited range of thought, it would probably be Donald Trump and this is reflected on the r/The_Donald subreddit.

But this alone does not constitute Newspeak. Newspeak requires new vocabulary and abbreviations that eliminate or simplify the connotations of words. The vocabulary of Newspeak is divided into three categories. The A vocabulary consists of everyday words which remain somewhat unchanged, but their grammatical flexibility is increased greatly. Any of these words can be modified with suffixes to change the part of speech, intensity, or even to reverse them. In 1984, this is epitomized by the word “bad” being replaced with “ungood” and words like “knife” being used instead of words like “cut” or “slice.” On r/The_Donald, the word “cuck,” short for cuckold is a general purpose insult with similar flexibility. While it ostensibly refers to someone whose masculinity has been taken away, it really just means someone who disagrees with r/The_Donald’s ideology. The word can also be used as a verb, as in “When did the world get so liberally cucked?” Or it can be used as an adjective, as in “Incredible new Tweet from Cucky Tim Kaine.” It can even be reversed, as in “--ITS HAPPENING-- google finally uncucked themselves.”

The B vocabulary is described as words “deliberately constructed for political purposes.” (303) In 1984, this means words like “goodthink” that describe the principles of the party and abbreviations like “minipax.” For r/The_Donald it could be used to refer to the many nicknames and categories created by Trump himself and adopted as lingo by the subreddit. Nicknames like “crooked” Hillary and “low-energy” Jeb were purposefully created to give those people a specific negative connotation. Supporters apply the language elsewhere, invoking images of the people Trump has slandered with posts like  “VERY LOW ENERGY TEXAS. SAD.” The B vocabulary could also include abbreviations like “MAGA,” an abbreviation of the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” which through abbreviation loses all of the literal meaning of its individual words, instead becoming an idea that is harder to strike down. For example, if someone says “Let’s make America great again.” You can respond by saying “When was America great?” or “How do you make it great? What does great even mean?” It’s much more difficult to respond to “We’re going to MAGA!” The word becomes impenetrable.

The C vocabulary refers to scientific terms that might only be used by certain members of the party, not the general public. This vocabulary can be represented on r/The_Donald by those words used by moderators to enforce the rules of the subreddit itself. These rules forbid things like “brigading,” which means organized downvoting or devaluing of posts because of a differing ideology. This allows the moderators to discredit those who disagree with a post as being invading forces from outside the community. Another clever term in this vocabulary is “concern troll,” which refers to disingenuous criticism of Trump or the community pretending to be in support of Trump but actually supporting outsider ideology. Therefore if someone who supports Trump, but has some kind of criticism about the discourse, you can discredit them by saying something like “It's okay to disagree with Trump on the trans issue, but don't concern troll or start shilling for Ted Cruz on here,” making it seem like they aren’t even real Trump supporters if they question him. They are framed as fake supporters looking to create the illusion of dissent within the ranks.

So, r/The_Donald has different ways of limiting the thoughts of people within the community. The most powerful of these is the ability to ban anyone with a different opinion, but as in 1984, totalitarian control itself isn’t enough. You also need to control the thoughts of the people within the ideology and find ways to discredit outsiders and differing information. It is this thought control that characterizes Newspeak.

Key Example

While these examples of individual pieces of Newspeak vocabulary are interesting. It is important to take a closer look at an individual piece of discourse. For this purpose I will use this post made in June 2016: I never really worry about this early / mid-day brigading, because I know once centipedes get off of work, it's GG. Get a job, you butthurt, SJW cucks, lol! There is a lot to unpack here, linguistically.  Firstly, there are a few terms I haven’t explained in detail. For starters, “centipedes” refers to a viral video called “Can’t Stump the Trump (Volume 4),” in which Trump is shown to evade criticism and ridicule his opponents during primary debates and interviews. This is underscored by narration from a nature documentary describing a centipede as a “nimble navigator” and a venomous predator, attributes they would later ascribe to members of r/The_Donald. It’s difficult to tell how many layers of irony are involved in people comparing themselves to centipedes for being sneaky and venomous, but it’s certainly a form of Newspeak to remove negative connotations from words and turn them into compliments.

“GG” is a video gaming term that stands for “good game.” “SJW” is an abbreviation with a bit more weight. “Social Justice Warriors” refer to militaristic liberal activists devoted to identity politics. A comparable term would be feminazi, a term used to slur feminists and those they deem “too politically correct.” The use of this term and its abbreviation tie connotations of war directly into differences in ideology.

The text itself is a rationale for low ratings on r/The_Donald posts. This poster was clearly seeing several posts on r/The_Donald getting low approval ratings and sought to justify that by implying that the votes were illegitimate. “Brigading” assumes that any and all downvotes or negative reviews of a post are coming from non-believers, who purposefully planned to downvote the posts all at the same time. Rather than needing to explain how this attack was possible, or why these posts specifically were targeted, or even whether some of the votes were legitimate dissent, the poster can capture the entire idea in the word “brigading.”

The poster then connects this conspiracy to the idea that the enemy, liberals, are stereotyped as being unemployed, living off welfare or parental support. The poster labels r/The_Donald users as “centipedes” reinforcing their savvy and moral superiority, and then ends the post with three stackable insults for liberals: “butthurt, SJW cucks.” Because the language already has built-in defense systems for the ideology, this post required no original thoughts to form its argument. There is no need to defend the downvoted posts and  fellow centipedes, nor to explain why SJW cucks are bad. The language itself restricts you from questioning these assumptions.

It’s established that centipedes or Trump supporters are in the right, that’s a given. Centipedes are too nimble and dangerous to be “stumped” by opposing ideas. Simply by being a part of the subreddit, you are assumed correct. Brigading and SJW are words that naturally dismiss any disagreement as conspiracy. It’s built into the language. The only people who downvote are brigades with an agenda to discredit the subreddit, made up of warriors from an opposing side attacking peaceful r/The_Donald posters.

Conclusion

The difference between this form of Newspeak and Newspeak as featured in 1984 is that in 1984, language is mandated by the state. It is deliberate. On r/The_Donald, Newspeak evolves naturally and memetically. Words gain and lose connotations simply because of artificial selection. As you browse the forum, looking back on posts only a few days old there are dozens of deleted posts and comments. Many are deleted through “bots” that automatically delete posts with racial slurs and anti-trump sentiment. Others are deleted by the moderators. The end result is that any use of a word as a negative towards Trump or as a positive toward his opponents is removed. Saying “Big Brother is ungood,” is equally impossible to say as “Donald Trump is a cuck.” Cuck can only refer to people against Trump.

It is worth noting that many within r/The_Donald  criticize the left for “politically correct” Newspeak. This would be language like saying “undocumented immigrants,” instead of “illegal aliens.” “Newspeak vocabulary of the MSM,” provides a dictionary for such terms as they are used by the MSM or Mainstream Media. While I don’t agree with the premise, it is clear that Newspeak need not be a deliberate choice. It can happen whenever a culture restricts the usage of words and limits opposing ideas that would bring new connotations to the discourse. The result can be isolating language and groupthink that radicalizes an ideology to the outside world.

 

Works Cited

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: New American Library, 1955. Print.

Reddit.com, Web.