Damn The Man/You’re The Man

The dual identity of “the man” in American slang perplexes me. We say “Damn the man” or “Don’t let the man get you down” to sneer at establishment figures, from the police to nameless powers-that-be. Yet at the same time, perhaps even in the same conversation, we praise peers’ success by declaring “You’re the man!” or “You the man!” (“You’re the woman/You the woman” is basically nonexistent, replaced instead with the cheer “You go girl!”)

This makes me wonder: Is the dual existence of “damn the man” and “you’re the man” simply a colloquial quirk, an example of language’s inherent slipperiness, or is it more of a Freudian slip, a symptom of the United States’ inherent contradiction of being a land of the free where everyone wants to be “like a boss”?

In any event, in case you’re interested, “the man” as a synonym for authority figures first appeared circa 1918, especially among underworld figures, and percolated into the mainstream in the 1960s. Meanwhile, “You’re the man” has a slightly hazier history, but internet detectives point to The Kay-Gees’ oft-sampled 1974 LP “Who’s the Man (With the Master Plan),” which includes just two lyrics, “Who’s the man with the master plan?” and “Inflation in the nation, headed for starvation.”

Here’s the audio:

Found in the LOC: Cândido Portinari

For this week’s Found in the LOC, here are four neo-realism murals Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari completed for the Library of Congress’ Hispanic Reading Rooms in 1942. The LOC has way more detailed information than I can provide, and I encourage you to check out their essay.

“Discovery of the Land”

 

“Entry into the Forest”

 

“The Teaching of the Indians”

 

“Mining for Gold”

Vicious.

“Vicious” is being used voraciously this week. Donald Trump and his allies are using the word to describe the investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyer Michael R. Bromrich and others are describing Trump’s attacks on Ford in the same way.

Though we most often associate “vicious” with wild animals, it comes from the Latin lexeme “vitiosus”, meaning “depraved” or “wicked.” In essence, both Trump and his nemeses are calling the other wicked, a reality that cuts to the wick of the problem of bitter, seemingly intractable partisanship that’s blanketed America: it’s a fight for the very soul of Americas, a fight for the very definition of  right and wrong in America. It really should be no contest, but, alas, too many people have been beguiled by the Trumpeteer.