Santorum neologism gains prominence during US election cycle

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A neologism coined in advice columnist Dan Savage's column Savage Love in response to comments made by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum about homosexuality has gained prominence during the ongoing election cycle in the United States. After Santorum spoke out against LGBT rights in the United States in 2003, readers of Savage’s column voted to define the word "santorum" as "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." The prominence of this term's association with Santorum, a current candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination, has had an impact on the former Senator's presidential campaign.

It is vile, as are Santorum's comments about gay people.

Dan Savage

Dan Savage commented on the continued impact of the santorum neologism, in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published Sunday, "It's still out there and it is an insanely dirty joke. It is crude. It is vile, as are Santorum's comments about gay people."

Artwork inspired by the santorum neologism phenomenon
Image: bijijoo.

At a speaking engagement on Friday, Santorum stated that same-sex partnerships don't "benefit society". Whilst speaking as part of his campaign for the U.S. presidency in 2012, Rick Santorum has had to answer questions from supporters of LGBT rights regarding his controversial political positions on issues pertaining to them. Critics have showed up to Santorum events and tried to giltter bomb the candidate.

Democratic strategists poised themselves to take advantage of Santorum's association with the neologism phenomenon. Based on sources among Democratic operatives, Jack Cahill of American Thinker reports Democratic tactics in Missouri involve actually galvanizing support for Santorum ahead of that state's Republican caucuses in order to eliminate the possibility of a Mitt Romney win. Cahill says they view Santorum as mostly a dirty joke's punchline.

Wikinews previously reported on the santorum neologism phenomenon in 2006, as part of an article, "Wikinews investigates Wikipedia usage by U.S. Senate staff members". The investigation noted that: "An edit to an article about a controversy over Senator Rick Santorum's statements about Constitutional rights to privacy with regards to sexual acts, seemingly coming from Rick Santorum's staff members, removed a reference to an effort to redefine Santorum's last name as a neologism".

In a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, Rick Santorum compared legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States to supporting bestiality. Readers of the Savage Love advice column selected a new definition for the Senator’s last name, and Savage created a website to document the spread of the phenomenon. The term became a prominent result in searches online, and gained dominance on Web search engines including Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.

There definitely are people who are finding this to be the best answer to their question ...

—Gabriel Stricker, Google

Google global communications chief Gabriel Stricker commented to National Public Radio in an interview this January, that the company was avoiding editorial judgment, and that the prominence of the santorum neologism phenomenon in web searches is due to increased interest in the subject. Stricker stated, "There definitely are people who are finding this to be the best answer to their question, and they are indicating this by either clicking on this result or linking to this result as the best answer to that question."

In the wake of Santorum's showing in the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses, additional curious people looked up the former Senator on the Internet and in turn discovered the santorum neologism phenomenon. After journalist Laura Sydell of the National Public Radio program All Things Considered received criticism for covering the increased attention to the santorum neologism, she explained why the issue was relevant: "I felt it was an important and legitimate story in the wake of Mr. Santorum's success in Iowa. Although the site had been up for many years, it was only after Mr. Santorum's success in the caucuses that a large number of people were actually searching for more information about him." The Canadian Press provided a similar analysis in January — that more coverage of Santorum has led to more coverage of the neologism.

Rick Santorum himself has acknowledged and discussed the existence and prevalence of the santorum neologism phenomenon, in comments to the press. He was quoted in January by The Canadian Press on his assessment of Google's response: "I suspect if something was up there like that about, say, Joe Biden, they would get rid of it. To have a business allow that type of filth to be purveyed through their website or through their system is something that they say they can't handle. I suspect that's not true." Santorum tried to alleviate the neologism's results in web searches by reaching out to Google in September, but this act only served to increase reporting and coverage of the phenomenon. In a 2011 radio interview with host Steve Malzberg, Santorum characterized the neologism as "filth". He criticized the response of the press to the phenomenon, saying, "It's offensive beyond, you know, anything that any public figure or anybody in America should tolerate, and the mainstream media laughs about it."