Mob rule? It all depends
"You bet they're disgusting."
"And those slogans! How can anybody listen to those slogans?"
"You know what they are? You know what those people are?"
"What are they?"
"They're a mob!"
"That's exactly what they are: nothing but a mob!"
"Trying to tear down. Always tearing down!"
"Never building up."
"They don't want anyone to succeed. That's not America, that's -- "
"Jealousy and envy."
"But it's not America."
"It's not the America I know."
We interrupt this thoroughly compelling bit of dialogue, which could grind on for several more beers, to pose a simple question to You, the Reader:
Who are they talking about?
(You want it grammatical? Fine. About whom are they talking?)
That's an easy one, right? They're talking about the protesters -- those "Occupy Wall Street" protesters. Those disgusting, annoying sloganeers who've been grabbing so much attention lately. What gave it away was "mob," right? Once you heard "mob," you knew. They're talking about "Occupy Wall Street."
Maybe. Or maybe not.
Or maybe only one of them is talking about "Occupy Wall Street" -- but he thinks that the other one is talking about it, too.
But what if the other one is talking about somebody else altogether? What if, for instance, the next line of the dialogue went like this:(italic)
"And those drums!"
At which point the other one might say:
"Drums? I didn't know they had drums."
And they'd realize -- after lots of humorous fits and starts, of course -- that they'd been talking absolutely past each other! That while Player No. 1 was all hopped up about "Occupy Wall Street," Player No. 2 was every bit as ticked at the Tea Party protesters. Or, for that matter, at the Republicans in the House of Representatives.
At which point Player No. 1 might say something like this:
"The Tea Party?! The Tea Party isn't a mob! The Tea Party folks are patriotic Americans exercising their right to free speech!"
"House Republicans aren't a mob! They're the guardians of our freedoms, holding the people in power accountable!"
Either way, our dialoguers may be headed for separate bar stools. Turns out that mobby is in the eye of the beholder. It isn't the size of the crowd, or how it's dressed, or how it wears its hair, or how loud it is, or how disruptive it is.
A "mob" is a crowd of people saying something you don't like. Something you disagree with. Something that makes you squirm. Something that threatens to put you at a political disadvantage.
A crowd of people you agree with? They're just a crowd. A "throng." Perhaps an "outpouring." Maybe even a "movement."
But never, ever a "mob."
Now you know.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.