Bristol Palin is, of course, the daughter of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, as well as a recent contestant on Dancing with the Stars and an abstinence advocate who is also mother to a almost-two-year-old.
It is for this last apparent paradox that MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann named Bristol Worst Person in the World (well, at least the Worst Person in the World for November 29th).
But this blog isn’t about politics, it’s about vocabulary. Bristol shot back on Facebook:
“Accusing me of hypocrisy is by now, an old canard. What Mr. Olbermann lacks in originality he makes up for with insincere incredulity.”
That’s a pretty good use of several GRE-worthy words (as well as alliteration)!
A canard is “a false or baseless, usually derogatory story, report, or rumor,” often used in the expression “tired, old canard.”
Canard is, literally, the French word for “duck” (the animal, not the verb). There seems to be some relationship with the English use of the word quack to mean a con artist, a dishonest salesperson. One origin note for canard offers: “from French: a duck, hoax, from Old French caner to quack, of imitative origin.”
Here, Bristol seems to be saying that pointing out that she is an abstinence advocate who, in the past, did not practice abstinence, is “played out.” She may be somewhat misusing the word, though, since certainly the mother of a small child cannot claim that the claim is “false or baseless.” The word canard is correctly used to refer to false stories that just won’t die — for instance, the tired, old canard that we only use 10% of our brains (and therefore this magic brain-enhancement program, spiritual movement, or pill will help you use the rest of it!)
Incredulity is an unwillingness to believe. It’s the state we’re in when we say, sincerely, “I just can’t believe it!” You could go so far as to call it the “OMG!” emotion.
So, insincere incredulity would be Olbermann pretending to be shocked when he really isn’t. I’ve never heard these two words put together before, but I can see it — a person might engage in insincere incredulity if she knows you’re planning her a surprise party but she doesn’t want you to know that she knows. So everybody jumps out and yells “Surprise!” and she says “OMG! I just can’t believe it!”
Insincere certainly has a negative connotation, though, so perhaps an even more appropriate use of the phrase would be something like a situation in which you tell your “friend” that you just found out that your boyfriend’s been cheating on you and she feigns total shock and indignation, but — OMG! — the woman he’s been cheating on you with is her!
Your erstwhile friend’s shock would certainly count as insincere incredulity.