When former President Donald Trump called former Gov. of North Carolina Nikki Haley “birdbrain,” it hit a nerve, which is to say that this insult rang true. Trump’s staffers reportedly even sent Haley a birdcage just to give the insult a concrete, physical dimension.
Merriam-Webster defines “birdbrain” as simply “a stupid person,” and gives synonyms such as “nitwit” and “scatterbrain.”
A “birdbrain” is a stupid person, but it also implies a particular sort of stupid person. There are certain shades of connotative meanings that are not in the dictionary. Specifically, a “birdbrain” is a person who is tragically unaware of their own limited intelligence, and proceeds to go on at length in any given discourse, kind of like how a bird persists in chirping and stupidly moving its head. So yes, this applies to Nikki Haley.
She isn’t exactly stupid compared to the average person, but the way she persists in repeating the conventional wisdom of the Republican establishment while being impervious to all other argument gives Nikki Haley a birdbrained vibe.
Is “birdbrain” gendered? Not according to any of the dictionaries. In fact, Merriam-Webster gives an example sentence of “birdbrain” which almost self-consciously avoids using a woman as an example:
“Her brother's a real birdbrain.”
God forbid the politically correct Merriam-Webster would imply that a woman could be a birdbrain.
When admittedly the usage of “birdbrain” has a gendered element to it, as you can probably gather, I’m not excoriating the use of “birdbrain” as sexist. There are simply certain insults that are earmarked for men and others for women. For example, “jerk” is really reserved for men, who after all are more liable to display open hostility or disrespect for other people, hence many men are in fact “jerks.”
This is why Trump’s dig at Haley is especially artful: It manages to call her dumb in an especially devastating and even gendered fashion.
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