A Brief History Of America’s Most Controversial Prefix

Alt-rock. Alt-lit. Alt-comedy. Alt-right.

What was once a prefix used to systematise subgenres has turn one of a some-more argumentative modifiers of a day. “White supremacists have co-opted a mixing form traditionally used for low-pitched and literary genres,” Merriam-Webster wrote final week of “alt-right.” 

Short, of course, for “alternative” (an verb definition “different from a common or conventional”), a prefix “alt” denotes something that rebels opposite tradition while belonging to it. For example, alt-country is a resolution of nation music; with a dash of punk it becomes a some-more precisely tangible partial of a nation domain, bolded and underscored, yet not private from a whole. Similarly, alt-right as an ideological identifier ― popularized by Richard Bertrand Spencer, conduct of a white jingoist consider tank National Policy Institute, in 2008 ― attempts to position a members within a right yet as well-developed among a ranks.

Where does “alt” as we know it come from? Merriam-Webster traced a approval of “alt” behind to a early days of a internet. “Alt” was a elite prefix for a sequence of Usenet newsgroups that “were combined as an choice forum to preexisting mainstream newsgroups,” Merriam-Webster recounts on a blog.

Popular in a 1980s and ‘90s, newsgroups were same to online contention groups and Usenet like a circular house complement (BBS) that functioned as a predecessor to internet forums. Essentially, mechanism users who busy alt.* newsgroups were seeking an choice to a mainstream discussions already function on Usenet ― possibly those discussions were about films, sports, politics, computers or sex. But “alternative” referred reduction to a calm of a discussions, and some-more to a channels themselves.

As a FAQ (Copyright 1995 by David Barr and The Pennsylvania State University) notes:

Contrary to renouned belief, “alt” is not named since it is for “alternative” topics. Back during a emergence of a complicated Usenet, it was motionless that newsgroups should be combined by following a clearly tangible set of “Guidelines”, involving grave discussions and a voting procedure. There was a poignant series of people who felt that there should be a sustenance for a place where people could emanate groups yet carrying to go by any contention or votes. Thus alt was born. It is a hierarchy that is “alternative” to a “mainstream” (comp,misc,news, rec,soc,sci,talk) hierarchy. “ALT stands for ‘Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists’.”

These “alt” groups valued rarely a right to free speech while shunning hierarchy of any kind. (The apocryphal thought that “alt” stands for “anarchists, lunatics and terrorists” persists for a reason.) Some “alt” newsgroups were targeted by politicians for their associations with bootleg entities, namely child pornographers. But others were simply places for little-known recommendations: alt.movies.silent, alt.movies.hitchcock, alt.movies.kubrick, etc.

All in all, “these newsgroups […] left alt- with a inference of edginess,” Merriam-Webster argues. This edginess, a compendium clarifies, “with a deceptive chronological echoes of online culture,” was partial of a interest for a alt-right founders. “[It] seems to be what extremist proponents of a alt-right had in mind when they rebranded old-school white leverage underneath a alt- banner,” a blog post continues. And afterwards there’s a useful clarity of belonging.

“Generally speaking, temperament labels are dictated to open adult space for belonging,” Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper told The Huffington Post. “What’s engaging about ‘alt-’ is that while it’s clearly a rebellion opposite an determined temperament — rock, right, press — it’s also defining itself with honour to that identity. That means that a core temperament becomes an on-ramp for people into a ‘alt-’ identity.”

The Oxford Dictionaries shortlisted “alt-right” for a word of a year, defining a tenure as “an ideological organisation compared with impassioned regressive or conservative viewpoints, characterized by a rejecting of mainstream politics and by a use of online media to disseminate deliberately argumentative content.” According to a Southern Poverty Law Center, a alt-right constitutes a “set of far-right ideologies, groups and people whose core faith is that ‘white identity’ is underneath conflict by multicultural forces.” (Alt-right views, NPR reports, are widely viewed as anti-Semitic and white supremacist.)

The alt-right, in these terms, competence seem away from a soothing punk attitudes of alt-music and alt-literature, yet maybe it’s not that distant private from the alt.* hierarchy mentality. Some difference of knowledge from Barr’s FAQ ring as eerily informed today: 

There are no Guidelines or Rules for formulating alt groups. There is no one “in charge” of a alt hierarchy. The pivotal to formulating a successful alt newsgroup depends usually on convincing a thousands of news administrators opposite a creation to lift your newsgroup.

When asked possibly or not another mixing form would have communicated as specific of an thought as a alt-right sought to convey, Stamper was hesitant. “Alt-” itself, Stamper said, is apropos so informed ― “particularly in music, where ‘alt-rock’ has now turn partial of a ‘establishment’” ― that devalue prefixes like “alt-alt-” and “alt-alt-alt-” are popping adult in Merriam-Webster’s archives, so there’s some value in a soothing recognition.

“I haven’t run opposite any other constrained prefixes that communicate both a clarity of belonging and rebellion,” she replied. “I suspect ‘un-’ competence qualify, yet we consider that ad campaigns for 7Up as a ‘un-cola’ competence have commercialized a inference too much. ‘Un-’ also defines a transformation by what it’s not, that competence be so extended in a box of something like ‘the un-left’ or ‘the un-right’ that only about anyone could go to either.”

For those alt-classical enthusiasts dissapoint that their prefix has finished adult in a hands of white nationalists, maybe a “un-right” communicates some-more clearly a stupidity of Richard Spencer’s ilk. Or, as several writers and editors have expressed, when in doubt, save “alt” for another impulse of alteration and only hang with a some-more accurate descriptor: “white supremacist.” 

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