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noun [countable]

Republican in name only: in the USA, a member of the Republican party whose political views are considered insufficiently conservative

'…he knocked off veteran Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar in a brutal campaign built on his contention that Lugar was too old, too out of touch and too friendly with Democrats - a RINO, Republican in name only.'

Seattle Times 27th September 2012

If you're looking at media coverage of the forthcoming presidential election in the USA, and see or hear use of the word RINO, then you're not witnessing some kind of tongue-in-cheek jibe at an overweight politician. You are, however, observing a word which has distinctly pejorative overtones. The term RINO is an acronym of the phrase Republican in name only, and is now a popular term of reference in US English for any Republican politician whose stance is considered to be insufficiently right-wing.

the term RINO watch is often used to refer to the monitoring of Republican politicians seen to be exhibiting left-wing tendencies

In the USA, the Republican Party is one of the two major political parties, the other of course being the Democratic Party. Broadly-speaking, Republicans have more conservative, right-wing views, supporting a political philosophy based on traditional values and social hierarchies. If the ideas of a Republican party member are considered a little too liberal (i.e. accepting of a wider range of opinions and a greater degree of personal freedom), then he or she may be branded by a fellow party member as a RINO. RINO status even has a graphic representation in the form of an image of a rhinoceros with a red slash through it. The term RINO watch is also often used to refer to the monitoring of Republican politicians seen to be exhibiting left-wing tendencies.

Predictably, it's not only the Republicans that can be seen to be openly disparaging of the views of fellow party members. The RINO has a counterpart on the other side of the political fence – the DINO, an acronym of Democrat in name only and referring to a Democrat whose views are deemed to be rather too conservative.

Background – RINO

The acronym RINO first appeared in 1992, though the full phrase on which it is based, Republican in name only, is much older, emerging as a popular political pejorative in the 1920s. The concept of being a 'dodgy' Republican by being insufficiently conservative is in fact a recurring theme in the history of the Republican party. During the 1930s and 40s, the expression Me-too Republican was used to describe members whose political stance was mainly aligned to Democrat perspectives with only minor differences. In the 60s and 70s, the term Rockefeller Republican was used to denote the same kind of idea, describing moderate to liberal Republicans whose views were considered to be similar to those held by the famous businessman and politician Nelson Rockefeller.

The use of acronyms in reference to a particular demographic has been a recurrent trend in word formation during the last few decades, and these expressions almost always have pejorative overtones, often carrying an implied criticism of those they are referring to. Back in the economic boom of the 1980s, there was talk of DINKYs, an acronym of dual income, no kids yet, describing young, upwardly-mobile professionals. From the same era came the term NIMBY, standing for not in my back yard and referring to a person who opposes any kind of new building work near to where they live. This even spawned a now well-established derivative NIMBY-ism as a way of referring to this kind of 'object-to-anything-that-inconveniences-me' attitude. Back in the financial domain, the noughties gave us the SKI-er, standing for spend the kids' inheritance and describing older folk who enjoy their retirement to the full by spending the cash that previous generations might have left to their children. On the other side of the coin, around the same time the KIPPERS appeared - kids in parents' pockets eroding retirement savings – referring to offspring who live with their parents well into adulthood. In the more recent past, it now sadly seems that we have the polar opposite to the DINKY in the NEET - not in education, employment or training - a reference to a young person who has left full-time education and is not working or in any other kind of education or training.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 29th October 2012.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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