Why Is “Trope” So Popular on the Internet?

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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.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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