Help us solve Sarah Palin’s latest language mystery

Today, the former governor of the great state of Alaska sent a message on Twitter containing the following phrase : “Who hijacked term: ‘feminist’? A cackle of rads who want to crucify  . . .” Given Palin’s high profile and her penchant for controversy we can’t help but try to decipher the use of “cackle” in this context.

Of the many senses of cackle, none really make sense when saying “a cackle of rads.” The overall sense of cackle is “to utter a shrill, broken sound or cry, as of a hen.” The other primary sense of cackle is as a shortened form of cachinnation, “to laugh loudly or immoderately.”

Now, “rads” is probably short for “radicals,” meaning “cackle” is probably meant as a collective noun, such as a herd of sheep, a pride of lions, or a gaggle of geese. “Gaggle” is our best guess for Palin’s true intention for a number of reasons. In phonetics, “g” and “k” sounds are separated solely by what are known as voiced/voiceless pairings. These consonants are known as plosives and the two sounds are formed almost identically except for when aspiration (articulation accompanied by an audible puff of breath, or in the release of initial stops) occurs. So “gaggle” and “cackle” have a direct kinship in the realm of pronunciation.

Additionally, a gaggle (a flock of geese when not flying or an often noisy or disorderly group or gathering) can informally refer to a noisy group of women, perhaps a group who are cackling. This would qualify Palin’s use of “cackle” as a sort of Freudian slip of the pen. (What’s the technical name for a slip of the tongue or pen? Here’s our answer.)

A gaggle of geese is an example of a term of venery, a distinctive term invented to describe a group of a specific species. A “herd” of cows would be a common example, while a “murder” of crows would be one of the most famous and colorful.

Palin has already sparked an amazing debate with her use of “refudiate.” This cackle enigma is icing on the cake.

Help us out. Does our cackle theory make sense to you? What is your take on this linguistic Twitter challenge. Go on and tackle that cackle.

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