P.J.’s Guide to Talking Like A Pundit

P.J. O’Rourke introduces you to the wonderful world of a profession that literally anyone can do.

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast

The 2016 political cycle has been subject to extensive commentary by political pundits such as myself. But what we pundits are saying isn’t always clear.

This is because political pundits speak a foreign language, “Punditese.”

There are two distinct dialects of Punditese—Conservative Punditese (CP) and Liberal Punditese (LP). Like English and English with a thick, drunken Scots burr, they are closely related linguistically but often mutually unintelligible. There was a third dialect, Objective Punditese (OP), but it has died out. The last two native speakers of OP, Michael Oakeshott and Isaiah Berlin, died in the 1990s.

A Glossary of Punditese Words and Phrases

political cycle—what a pundit calls an election race because “political cycle” sounds more highfalutin, like the pundit’s been reading Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West instead of Buzzfeed.

front-runner—a candidate whose name is familiar to people whose lives are so empty that a call, text, or website pop-up from a political pollster is the highlight of their day.

strong contender—maybe they’ve also heard this candidate’s name.

plausible contender—the pundit knows exactly who this candidate is, that’s how empty the pundit’s life is.

dark horse candidate—hopeless candidate pundit is talking about.

hopeless candidate—dark horse candidate other pundits are talking about.

inside the beltway—I, the pundit, am so well-informed and savvy about Washington that I know that when you’re driving south from New York on I-95 the Interstate forks in Maryland, with I-95 going left, clockwise around the District of Columbia, and I-495 going right, counter-clockwise around the District of Columbia, until the two roads rejoin in Virginia, forming a ring or “beltway” around our nation’s capital.

beltway insider—me.

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beltway insiders—me and my friends from the bar on Pennsylvania Ave.

reliable source—me.

inside source—me.

inside sources—me and a low-level congressional staffer with whom I once had a beer.

reliable sources (LP)—me and the members of my Columbia Heights power yoga class.

wise men (un-ironic)—the pundit speaking of him or herself in the third person plural.

wise men (ironic)—other pundits, and they’re wrong.

hinge point—the 2016 election cycle will be very different from now on in a way that will look to you, the uninitiated, as if things are the same. But I, the pundit, will be here to explain how different things are compared to the way they were before I explained them to you.

game changer—like a hinge point but so obvious that there’s nothing for the pundit to explain and the pundit has to just say, “That’s a real game changer,” over and over again.

tip of the iceberg—I, the pundit, am trying to attract attention to myself by alarming you about a thing, and have special knowledge that seven-eighths of this alarming thing is hidden or concealed.

double down—candidate making the same mistake twice.

as I have said before—pundit making the same mistake twice.

exit strategy—as Abbie Hoffman called it, “Screaming theater in a crowded fire.”

spin—what you’re hearing from the pundit, not that the pundit realizes it.

fiscally conservative and socially liberal (LP)—Republican about whom I can’t think of anything truly damning to say, but give me a minute.

fiscally conservative and socially liberal (CP)—Republican who couldn’t even be trusted to oppose Huma Abedin’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

women’s health (LP)—abortion.

hard liner (LP)—any Republican to the right of Nelson Rockefeller, e.g. Reagan.

far right (LP)—any Republican to the right of Nelson Rockefeller and not, e.g. Reagan, dead yet.

far left (LP)—doesn’t exist.

far left (CP)—the inspirational quotes on Starbucks coffee cups, and the list goes on from there.

big money—money that has not been offered to the pundit.

political analysts say—some other journalist told me.

political analysts agree—two other journalists told me.

highly placed source—anyone dumb enough to answer my emails or phone calls.

highly placed source speaking on condition of anonymity because—because they’re dumb but not suicidal.

on background—the highly placed source is pulling this out of his ass.

on deep background—the highly placed source is pulling this out of somebody else’s ass.

studies show—I’m pulling this out of my own ass.

any sentence beginning with The facts are or Research shows—I Googled it.

balanced assessment—what I’m saying.

impartial assessment—what I said already and now I’m saying again.

a voice of reason—someone who agrees with me, such as, for example, me.

partisan—they’re wrong.

nonpartisan—I’m right.

liberal stalwart (CP)—anyone to the left of David Brooks, including David Brooks.

liberal stalwart (LP)—David Brooks, in his heart of hearts.

traditional media—the newspaper that fired me.

mainstream media also lamestream media (CP)—boot-licking, ass-kissing pinko milksops.

right-wing talk radio and Fox News (LP)—received by listeners on dental fillings along with secret messages from the CIA.

speaking truth to power—in my dreams that’s what I do, although, even in my dreams, I’m careful to do it from a safe distance.

politics—politicians lying.

insider politics—politicians lying to each other.

politics as usual—politics.

grassroots politics—the candidate has attracted an impressive number of clueless people with nothing better to do than randomly phone other people at dinner time.

dog whistle politics (LP)—a Republican candidate makes a seemingly innocuous statement that his supporters—and only his supporters—correctly hear as racist, sexist, homophobic and insensitive while his opponents remain clueless. Thankfully, the pundit is able to detect the racism, sexism and homophobia.

retail politics—candidates lying to members of the electorate one by one.

effective media campaign—candidates lying to the members of the electorate all at the same time.

effective social media campaign—someone on candidate’s campaign staff, probably an 19-year-old volunteer, knows what reddit is.

Washington insider—corrupt.

Washington outsider—an idiot.

passionate advocate of—candidate is having a manic episode.

passionate opponent of—friends say candidate needs rest.

claims his/her remarks were taken out of context—gotcha!

in fairness to—here comes a great big bitch slap of a backhanded compliment.

out of touch with ordinary Americans (LP)—candidate doesn’t even try to pretend to be stupid, broke and dressed in sweatpants from Walmart.

out of touch with ordinary Americans (CP)—candidate favors immigration reform because he/she can’t get the leaf blower started and supports legalization of gay marriage and preservation of abortion rights because his/her son/daughter is a horndog/slut.

appealing to the Republican base (LP)—wearing a bed sheet with eye holes to a protest at an abortion clinic while carrying an assault rife and holding hands with Jesus.

appealing to the Democratic base (CP) —performing free abortions for people of color in a state-funded safe space.

reliable fundraiser for the Party—person who should, and will probably, be in jail.

waste, fraud and abuse (CP)—government.

reinventing government (LP)—making a patent application for a circular device capable of rolling back and forth.

term limits, entitlement reform, privatization of Social Security (CP)—unicorns, flying ponies and candy-flavored rainbows.

raising awareness of (LP)—won’t shut up about.

social justice (LP)—scrapping the constitution in order to make Ta-Nehisi Coates the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

Donald Trump (LP)—the true face of the GOP.

Donald Trump (CP)—democracy is government by the people and 50 percent of people are below average in intelligence, mathematical fact.