Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Astro Turf and Radicals

On Monday I was chatting with some political types (or rather they were chatting and I was sternly drinking my wine) when they all started to use the verb astroturfing. It should be noted that I'm not quite sure how to spell this. Astro Turf is, officially, two words and a registered trade mark. The conversation went something like:

"Oh, he's only astroturfing."

"I know he's only astroturfing. Obviously it's Astro Turf."

"But the papers can see that he's astroturfing too. They won't buy it."

Often you hear a new word, but it kind of doesn't work because people sound that little bit smug while they're saying it and then explain it afterwards to make themselves sound clever. Not here. This was clearly a standard part of their vocabulary that they used as freely as I would use the word drinking. So I asked what it meant.

They all looked at me as though I were some kind of hick, which of course I am, and one of them, descending briefly from the higher realm of politics explained quickly that Astro Turf is meant to look like grass but is in fact manufactured, and that astroturfing is therefore when a politician carefully organises and controls a campaign, but tries to make it look as though it's all coming up from the grass roots.

Incidentally, the root of radical is radix which is the Latin word for root (you may need to read that twice). Thus a radish is a root, to eradicate is to pull up by the roots, and grass roots politics is etymologically just the same as radical politics.

I'd vote for that.


  1. Will you please come to Australia to explain politics here.

  2. I first came across this being used to describe dodgy marketing tactics (getting apparently independent people to say Good Things about Product X on the web, mostly), and it baffled me at the time. I still think it's silly, because Astro Turf isn't really pretending to be grass, unlike the marketing (or political wossnames) which are pretending to be genuine comments. Or maybe that's just me...

  3. New Kid on the Block30 May 2012 14:34

    "Incidentally, the root of radical is radix which is the Greek word for root (you may need to read that twice). Thus a radish is a root,"

    Mmm.. Objection your Honor! :-)

    Radix is the (old) Greek word for branch (or some sort of..).
    The (old and modern) Greek word for root is riza (ρίζα/ΡΙΖΑ).
    Radish (and riza/ρίζα) share the same proto Indo-European root “wrad”.

  4. Interesting. According to the much-beloved by me Online Etymology Dictionary, Radix is Latin - this is what it says if you look up 'radish':

    It also, incidentally, quotes the use of Proto Indo-European 'wrad'. So perhaps Radish means it's a bit like a wrad....

  5. I remember helping my Grandad down his allotment and upon thinning the Radishes i asked him why they are called thus - he replied it was just a saying because of it's colour being Reddish?

    Laurie -

  6. I'm not too sure on my biology or horticulture but I think that the beginning root of a seedling is also called the radicle.


  7. My mistake, it was the Latin root. I shall make the change.

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