US & Canada

Donald Trump: The schlong and short of it

Donald Trump campaigns in Michigan Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Donald Trump made the much-debated remarks campaigning in Michigan

And so, an unlikely year in US politics nears its end with Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump sparking a debate about Yiddish semantics.

It all stems from his use of the word "schlonged" when talking about Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Referring to her defeat by Barack Obama in the 2008 primary race, he told supporters in Michigan: "She was favoured to win and she got schlonged, she lost."

Use of the word, which is from the Yiddish slang for penis, has been criticised but Mr Trump hit back on Twitter.

"Once again, #MSM [mainstream media] is dishonest. 'Schlonged' is not vulgar. When I said Hillary got 'schlonged' that meant beaten badly," he wrote.

So was he correct to suggest it is a neutral, commonplace saying? Mr Trump tweeted that the phrase had been used in politics before, to refer to an earlier Democratic campaign.

Image copyright @RealDonaldJTrump

In a "History of political 'schlongings'" Ben Zimmer in Politico mentions several other examples, although adds that Mr Trump's "usage rightly raised eyebrows for its leering undertones".

Political analyst Jeff Greenfield said it was a word he hears often.

Image copyright @greenfield64

Writing in Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall suggests "schlonged" may have similar etymological status to words such as "screwed" - a term that originally had a sexual meaning but has since become a more accepted phrase.

"These phrases often get used with little conscious sense of their original meaning," he wrote.

'A putz'

Hillary Clinton's campaign team said they would not respond to the comments but her spokesperson tweeted "everyone who understands the humiliation this degrading language inflicts on all women should".

Michelle Goldberg in Slate said the language was a sign "Trump, having capitalised on his fans' vast store of racial and religious resentment, is now seeking to tap the reservoir of their misogyny".

Mr Trump has faced previous accusations of sexism, after attacking the appearance of Republican rival Carly Fiorina and for suggesting Fox News host Megyn Kelly gave him tough questions during a debate because she was menstruating.

Others questioned the usage. The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum tweeted "'schlonged' is not a verb. Even when used by a putz," referring to another Yiddish word meaning a stupid or worthless person.

Josh Barro, a correspondent for the Upshot, said the idea it was a common phrase was "obviously false".

Image copyright @JBarro

Statistician and writer Nate Silver disputed the term's supposedly regular usage, linking to a database he said showed "schlonged" had only been used nine times on US news sources since 1980 - most of which very much did not mean "beaten badly".

Of course, it is hard to see how these latest controversial remarks will have any more impact than any of his other outspoken comments - his brash nature is a major reason why he is flying high in the race to be Republican nominee.

Fox News Howard Kurtz suggested the real problem was the comments deflected scrutiny of Hillary Clinton's claims the Islamic State group used videos of Mr Trump's remarks on Muslims to recruit militants, which on Tuesday she appeared to backtrack on.