Is "macaca" really back? An example of misreading by TPM and Wonkette.

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Talking Points Memo and Wonkette are very excited about a citation from the Christian publication World magazine, which recently conducted an interview with George Allen. Their excitement, however, may be based on misreading that stems from their desire to see what they want to see. They are pointing to the following quote:

Allen actually had a pretty credible defense for what he said. No one — including The Washington Post, which featured the story repeatedly for several weeks — ever demonstrated that “macaca” really has such murky racial connotations in any language. But in northern Italy, where Allen’s mother had close family connections, “macaca” does seem to mean “clown” or “buffoon.” Allen says now that’s what he was trying to communicate.

Wonkette says that this means that Allen is "blaming mom again." Marshall concludes that the entire citation is "what [Allen] told them" and that it means that Allen has changed his story: "So it's a word he picked up from his mom and it means buffoon."

The problem with both of these conclusions is that they aren't necessarily supported by the quote itself.

This citation is located behind World's subscriber wall, so maybe the article itself clears this up, but that quote on its own reads as if the first three sentences are summary and editorial insight from the author of the article and not from George Allen. The only idea seeming to come from Allen himself is that he was trying to communicate that the guy was a clown--and that idea is totally consistent with his "I made it up" defense.

In other words, while it seems very unlikely that Allen would defend himself to World by arguing that the WaPo hadn't proved it was a racist word and that the word comes from his mother's family connections, it does seem likely that the article's author would want to provide some explanation for why the word itself isn't bad--regardless of how Allen came to say it. It seems like the author was providing a summary using these facts which was intended to explain why Allen's defense makes sense with the origin of the word--and why it fits the idea that Allen was just wanting to indicate that the guy harassing him was crazy.

Despite what Marshall and Wonkette argue, the citation doesn't say that (a) Allen said he knew the word before; (b) that he knew it meant buffoon; (c) that he learned it from his mother. The only thing it attributes to Allen is that he was trying to communicate that the guy was a clown--and that still fits his story.

Reading this entire quote as if it stems from Allen himself seems more likely to be misreading of it than not, and Wonkette and Marshall don't appear to have the kind of support that they need to make the definitive claims that they make. They're likely seeing what they want to see in it in an attempt to keep this story going, but they may be seeing something that just isn't there.

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