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birther

noun [countable]

a person who believes that President Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States, and therefore should not be allowed to be president

birtherism

noun [uncountable]

'Earlier this year, Mr. Obama ceded to pressure from birthers (a contingent of Americans … who expressed skepticism about his Hawaiian origins) to release his long-form birth certificate as proof that he was, in fact, born in the United States …'

CBS News 18th May 2011

'But Republicans are massively distracted by birtherism. A New York Times-CBS News poll last week showed that while 57 percent of Americans believe that President Obama was born in the United States, against 25 percent who didn't, just 33 percent of Republicans believed him American-born, while 45 percent did not.'

Oregon Live 30th April 2011

On April 27th 2011 President Obama released his full birth certificate for public consumption. The move was an attempt to once and for all quash a rumour, which has persisted since his presidential campaign in 2008, that he is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and therefore technically not eligible to be the president. Perceived by many as a ridiculous conspiracy theory, this bizarre controversy has also spawned a couple of high-profile neologisms in American English. Those who subscribe to the view that Obama is not a natural-born American are dubbed birthers, and the viewpoint itself is correspondingly described as birtherism.

among the theories of birthers are that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, that he became a citizen of Indonesia and lost his US citizenship …

Among the theories of birthers are that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, that he became a citizen of Indonesia and lost his US citizenship, and that his father was Kenyan so he therefore has dual (British and American) citizenship. All such allegations share the common aim of denying Obama's status as a natural-born US citizen, and thereby questioning his eligibility for the presidency.

One of the most high-profile birthers is Donald Trump, a US celebrity businessman who, despite the release of Obama's birth certificate and therefore tangible evidence of his origins, continues to dig into aspects of Obama's past, now querying the certificate's authenticity and probing into his allegedly unsatisfactory college records. For many, the views of Trump and other birthers are little more than a smear campaign crafted by his political opponents, a conclusion which seems convincing in the light of Trump's widely publicized deliberation about whether to run as a candidate in the presidential election in 2012.

Background – birther, truther, deather

The word birther dates back to the presidential campaign of 2008. It parallels the earlier nickname truther, coined to refer to people who question the official account of the attacks on New York's World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001. Truthers argue that there was some sort of cover-up, sometimes even suggesting that the attacks were the result of an inside job.

On the same model, another high-profile neologism in US English is deather, which appears to have two meanings. In recent press, it has been used to refer to people who don't believe that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed in the US military raid in May 2011, either because there is no photographic proof of the killing or because they believe that bin Laden was already dead. Prior to this, deather popped up in an entirely different context as a reference to people opposing Obama's health care reforms in relation to the elderly.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 30th May 2011.

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