Is “Crude” The Right Word To Use To Describe Someone’s Language?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by

by Ashley AustrewAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been in office for less than a month, and already she’s been the subject of controversy on multiple occasions. First, she was reportedly booed in Congress while voting to elect Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the house. Then, she was targeted by the leak of the now-infamous recording of her dancing in college. And most recently, Ocasio-Cortez made headlines for telling the media she’s going to “run train on the progressive agenda”—a term many are saying was unnecessarily crude. 

She said what?

Her comments were published by the Washington Post in response to the scrutiny that has followed her since she was elected. That scrutiny being the Daily Caller’s publication of a fake nude photo of her. Ocasio-Cortez’s response?

“The nude is supposed to be like the bazooka. You know, like, ‘We’re going to take her down.’ Dude, you’re all out of bullets, you’re all out of bombs, you’re all out of all this stuff. What have you got left?” she said. “I’m six days into the term, and you already used all your ammo. So enjoy being exhausted for the next two years while we run train on the progressive agenda.”

What does run train mean (and why do we care)?

The term run train has a couple of different meanings. The first is as “a lewd sexual act.” The second is “to work on multiple things at once, such as in a game or in a competition.”

Given the context of her sentence, one could assume Ocasio-Cortez meant the latter definition of run train, but it’s impossible to be sure because her reps declined to comment. In the absence of an explanation from the congresswoman herself, critics took their own interpretations of the phrase and ran with them. Conservative media personality Ben Shapiro called her comments “hilariously terrible.”

Meanwhile, others said Ocasio-Cortez was crude, clueless, and classless.

Why crude?

What’s significant about using crude to describe Ocasio-Cortez’s language is that the use of the adjective would indicate less what people think about her words and more what they think about her as a person. Crude is defined as “raw or unprepared,” “lacking finish, polish, or completeness,” and “lacking culture, refinement, and tact.” We see it most often used to describe objects: a crude drawing, a crude approximation, a crude summary.

When it comes to calling people crude, we typically use the word to describe “behavior that is out of place.” In movies and TV shows, crudeness is often employed to show that someone is a misfit. Clark Griswold’s cousin in Christmas Vacation is crude not just for his language or for standing in the middle of the street dumping sewage from his RV into a storm drain, but also because everything about his lifestyle, demeanor, and dress does not fit with the rest of his family. In The Office, Michael Scott is a caricature of a crude boss—one who not only says the wrong things and pushes the envelope of what constitutes acceptable office behavior, but one who is also just out of place, inappropriate, and ever the outsider among his colleagues (albeit one with some redeeming qualities because it’s a fictional show).

The “simple” and “raw” connotations of crude are hard to ignore when the term is deployed to describe a person.

Take what happened when Kyrie Irving was called crude last fall after tweeting the phrase “f–k Thanksgiving.” While his language was certainly not family-friendly, his reasoning was anything but simplistic: He explained that he finds the holiday problematic because of his mother’s Native American heritage and the plight of Native Americans in the United States.

Was Irving truly being simple, raw, unfinished? Or, was the tweet stating something people did not like and, therefore, found easy to dismiss by calling it crude?

So, can Ocasio-Cortez’s word choice be considered crude?

The simple answer? Sure.

But, we’re surmising that the word people may have been looking for is  vulgar, a pretty common adjective for language (unlike crude). Terms that are labeled vulgar on are considered inappropriate in many circumstances because of their association with a taboo subject.

However, one could argue that, given the scrutiny she’s already faced in her short time in politics, many are poised to call her crude whether she (or her language) deserves it or not. Regardless of her chosen slang, Ocasio-Cortez is a politician who, in some people’s minds, simply will never fit.

She’s a woman, first of all. And, at 29 years old, she is the youngest member of Congress. She is of Puerto Rican descent. She’s spoken openly about the fact that she couldn’t find a D.C. apartment before beginning her term in Congress because they were too expensive. She uses slang. She dances. She’s “unpolished,” in the sense that she speaks her mind and has not put her personality on mute since she was elected. And those, more so than word choice, are the likely reasons that we’re expected to balk every time she speaks.

Crude is bad, right?

Well, not necessarily. Because, in contrast to Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump was elected, at least in part, because of his own crudeness. Supporters praise him for his “no nonsense” approach to politics and his willingness to “tell it like it is.” Many had no problem when he talked about grabbing women by their private parts or said “terrorists” come from “sh*thole countries.” For someone like Trump, who is straight, white, male, and well off, crudeness is, apparently, an asset.

One can still argue that there is an appropriate time and place for certain kinds of language, but those criticizing Ocasio-Cortez don’t seem concerned with what she meant or whether her words are defined accurately. Her use of slang fits with the opinion that she was already out of place, unrefined, and lacking polish.

It’s worth asking whether or not the real outrage is that Ocasio-Cortez is challenging some people’s crude understanding of what a politician should be.

Ashley Austrew is a freelance writer from Omaha, Nebraska. Her work has been published at Cosmopolitan, Scary Mommy, Scholastic, and other outlets.For more by Ashley, read: “Why Can’t Women Swear?” | “Is It Time For All Couples To Use The Term “Partner”?

Previous Not All Bad: 7 Ways "Bad" Can Be Good Next Why Are We Calling Everything A “Wave”?