AD HOMINEM [ad HOM-uh-nuhm] : appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason*


I am inviting you, my readers, to submit words that you think would be fun to discuss.   This submission comes from my good friend, David Hume, of Enid, Oklahoma.  David is one of the founders of Park Avenue Thrift, one of most creative outreach projects around.   Every few days I will cover a word that you send in.   Thanks, David.]


When I saw the word ad hominem I immediatly thought about your friend and mine (?) Rush Limbaugh.   The world’s greatest blatherer, Rush holds forth on the radio on a regular basis, blasting anything that is not exactly to his liking.   He is known for using derogatory terms to describe people of a more moderate or liberal bent, and occasionally turns them onto his fellow conservatives when they seem to be straying from what he deems to be the truth.  At times his words and dramatic effects are downright insulting, as in the case of Sarah Fluke, the graduate law student at Georgetown.  He enraged an entire nation.

What makes Rush Limbaugh a candidate for the word ad hominem is the fact that he lives out the definition I have used in the title of today’s posting.  He “appeals to prejudices, emotions, and special interests rather than intelligence.”  What is frustrating is that Rush Limbaugh is probably intelligent.  I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect that a man who has made a gazillion dollars on his brand can’t be all  that dumb.   What people tend to forget about him is that he is an entertainer, not a political scientist, a government official, or even anything else “official,” except being the official blatherer on his radio show and the darling of people of the same ilk.

Ad hominem is a word from Latin which means “to the man.”   It refers to the idea that an argument is about the person, not the idea.  Recognizing that all people are vulnerable in some ways, whether negatively or positively, an ad hominem argument plays off a perceived flaw in someone’s character in order to avoid dealing with the real issue.  For instance, when the late Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was running for President in 1972 he responded to an alleged verbal attack against his wife.  In the midst of his speech he  shed a tear.   It became a cause, with the opposition pointing to it as a sign of his weakness, something for which Muskie was not known.  He eventually lost his bid.  The ad hominem commentary on his tear overwhelmed the legitimate discussion of the issues about which he was passionate.

I hope that my going off on Rush Limbaugh doesn’t become an ad hominem issue, blocking the important point of this posting.   It is important to stay focused on the real purpose, which is to introduce the term ad hominem as an important addition to our vocabulary.  The word is used regularly in commentary, making it important for us to be aware of its meaning.


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* hominem.

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