Trope–Not News to You

Trope Doll

First Posted 07-Mar-2015

“Drip, drip, drip” has become a trope. Rush Limbaugh has used it repeatedly to refer to the slow bleed of leaked stories about classified information allegedly stored on private servers owned by Hillary Clinton. I decided to write about the word, “trope” after hearing it used by Norman Chan of and by NPR, “so, Hillary’s alleged misuse of a private e-mail address evokes all those Conservative Talk Show tropes about an inability to trust the Clintons.” The emerging story on the Clintons is how little our current administration cares to respect the rule of law. Trump isn’t far off in claiming that he could shoot people and his supporters wouldn’t care. The “drip, drip, drip” trope has continued so the circumstantial case against Clinton is hard to deny.

Trope” is a word that is new to me. It is 16th Century Latin from Greek, αλληγορία, meaning a figure or turn of speech. I have a feeling though, that I am becoming aware of a trend in language that has been around awhile and I’ve just missed it until the word popped up on NPR and out of the mouth of Norman Chan of I thought the word was blog-post worthy for this space because a recurring theme of this site is language, narrative, and how we use both to explain what we do and to decide to do it. The word has been around for a few hundred years and its modern use is at least a decade old. So, for some, the word is not news. I’m just slow to become aware of it. As usual.

Trope, as used by Norman Chan, seems to be a way of quoting a whole plot line just by the title. “The Archetypical Hero’s Tale” of Joseph Campbell fame, evokes many stories, Star Wars among them, for those that know it. For those literate in it, all that is needed is the four word title and you can move on to telling other stories.

Another use of it was on NPR, in talking about the recent news that Hillary Clinton had registered her own e-mail domain name and rented space on a hosting service for her own e-mail. For 99% of us, buying a domain with an e-mail account isn’t news. Many of us do this. I’ve had this domain for a bunch of years. I’ve owned various domains over the years, mostly through Through my account with them, I have available 1,000 possible e-mail accounts. I only use one or two of my 1,000 possible accounts. As just a regular person, what Ms. Clinton did is nothing newsworthy. Ms. Clinton, though, isn’t just a regular person. She’s been First Lady to her husband, Bill Clinton, a U.S. Senator to New York State, and Secretary of State under Barack Obama. Some of her email is a matter of public record and the property of the Federal Government. It matters what e-mail address she uses when she is working.

Yeah, yeah, trope . . . there is a connection, long-winded as it is. What I heard from NPR is something like, “so, Hillary’s alleged misuse of a private e-mail address evokes all those Conservative Talk Show tropes about an inability to trust the Clintons.” Trope? Oh. So, “trope” as used here is a way of quoting a whole slew of rants about the Clintons as uttered by a group of talk show hosts that NPR thinks are enemies of Hillary & Bill Clinton. Ok. I think I get it, kinda.

Norman Chan’s use of it was to describe story-telling techniques used in films that he likes. He described a movie where the bad guy rescuing a cat was a way of making the baddie empathetic. This becomes the “Cat Rescue Trope” and this particular film used it to mock other film-makers that over-use it. We know and can document, the existence of books, for about 4600 years. The practice of story telling is probably older than that. We’ll go with 4600 years for now. So, over 4 millennia to write stories. The study of story is probably just as old. As a people, we know a lot about how stories get told. We know there are tropes that recur across time and culture. It becomes possible to just refer to the “Cat Rescue Trope” and nearly finish telling that story just in three words.

Here is the connection for me in this space. There are tropes we repeat that mark how we view our truth, our reality, and out of that, how we choose our behavior. NPR and their dark partners in conservative talk radio, both know the story of Ms. Clinton’s misuse of her own domain name. The story they tell about it, though, isn’t the same. They each have their tropes, their shorthand, for explaining what they believe Ms. Clinton did/didn’t do properly. Did Ms. Clinton screw up? Probably. Will this be the public narrative explaining why she doesn’t end up being our country’s first woman president? Time will tell. I’d rather she didn’t become president. But my reasons have to do with her political views and not so much her character. What became blog worthy for me though, was these two instances of the word, “trope” in my life–from Norman Chan and from NPR. And old word becoming new to me. Cool.