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Poll: Rhymes with Troll

Posted by Rick · September 10th, 2004 · No Comments

Bob Marcotte sends me a link to an interesting commentary on polls as the “genital warts of election year.” Personally, I think it’s no accident that “poll” rhymes with “troll.”

It doesn’t matter, either, which definition of “troll” you use to recognize the propriety of the alliterative effect here. (Before any of you linguistic purists email me — especially you Tom Christiansen (you little troll) — remember that alliteration normally, but not necessarily, involves a leading consonant.)

“Troll,” as a verb, means,

1 : to cause to move round and round : BOWL, ROLL <trolled it … as a child does a hoop — R.S.B.Baker>
2 a : to sing the parts of (as a round or catch) in succession b : to sing loudly or freely c : to celebrate in song <that all tongues shall troll you — Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher>
3 : to speak or recite in a rolling voice or very rapidly
4 obsolete : to move very rapidly : WAG <to dress and troll the tongue and roll the eye — John Milton>
5 a : to angle for with a hook and line drawn through the water from a moving boat b : to angle in <troll the lakes — Jackson Rivers> c : to pull through or as if through the water behind a boat <two or three surface lures were trolled continuously during daylight hours — Commercial Fisheries Review>
intransitive verb
1 : to move around : CIRCULATE, ROLL
2 : to fish especially by drawing a hook along or through the water with a line behind a moving boat <trolled for bass — Walt Sibley>
3 a : to take part in a troll : sing or play in a jovial manner : sound with a rolling tone b : to be constantly in mind (as a melody)
4 : to speak rapidly : wag the tongue
5 archaic : to pass from hand to hand <the wassail round in good brown bowls … blithely trolls — Sir Walter Scott> “troll.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (10 Sep. 2004).

And polls not only tend to move the opinion of the electorate around, but seem actually manufactured for that purpose. Certainly, candidates tend to view them that way.

Polls, however, also move the candidates around. Not only do they often react to polls by explaining that the nuances or complexities of their position were not fully understood — why not explain things better the first time? — but sometimes they flat-out change their opinions. This effect frequently has people talking about Kerry’s “flip-flops.” Somehow, George Bush, who has changed his mind — or at least his words — on everything from health care to whether Condi Rice would testify before Congress to whether or not the war in Iraq is winnable, has somehow managed to avoid the “flip-flop” moniker. Probably because, after all, his campaign was the first pot to call the kettle black.

The unabridged version of Merriam-Websters provides two definitions of “troll” used as a noun:

1 England : a hawker’s cart : TROLLEY
2 a : the process of trolling b (1) : the lure (as a spoon) used in trolling (2) : the line with its lure and hook used in trolling
3 : a song sung in parts successively : CATCH, ROUND
4 : a slovenly or loose woman : TROLLOP



: a supernatural being in Germanic and Scandinavian folklore and mythology having sometimes the form of a dwarf and sometimes of a giant and inhabiting caves or hills. “troll.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (10 Sep. 2004).

And again, it’s hard to deny that one purpose of the polls is to convince the unwashed masses — the herd, if you will — of how to vote. It seems that, increasingly, the Americans are like so many British soccer fans on holiday in somebody else’s country. Why stop and think about the potential damage you’ll cause when it’s so much more fun to just scream and charge the field? After all, it works for lemmings!

Those who hang back, knowing the power of polls, generally look on them as having all the predictability and power of ugly, stinky mythological monsters. Or genital warts.

It’s probably no surprise, but just as “progress” has warped the utility of polls, so, too, has the coming of the Internet warped the meaning of “troll.” At least since the days of IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, — which pre-dates the invention of the first web browser — “trolls” have been insufferable, infuriating, insulting, snide, impolite and often ignorant people who don’t actually believe what they say; they speak for effect and their goal is distraction and the theft of other people’s time. “Troll Definition,” Cunningham & Cunningham, Inc., Wikipedia, July 19, 2004 (last visited September 10, 2004.) Sometimes, they hang out on other people’s blogs, repetitively posting the same lies again and again regardless of how often the facts that controvert them are presented.

You can frequently recognize that a troll is coming by the non sequitur-ish character of their comments. Trolls are, after all, usually completely disengaged not just from the truth or falsity of their comments, but from the very content itself. This is why they’re capable of changing horses so quickly. Midstream? Forget it. A good troll takes several horses across at once, constantly jumping from one to another to avoid being hit by fact bullets.

Veteran IRC aficionados learned long ago that the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it.

It doesn’t actually silence the troll, but it goes a long way towards reducing the throbbing sound of the troll-drum inside your own head.

Special thanks to Bob Marcotte for pointing me to “Who The Hell Is ‘Undecided’? And why do so many polls leave you angry and stupefied and drunk?”

Categories: Politics-In-General


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