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'Throwing shade': trash talk about politics takes a turn toward the hip

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(Read caption) President Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Jan. 20, 2015. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon tweeted: 'Not saying Obama was throwing shade last night, but that ad lib about winning both of his elections just solved Global Warming."

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Throwing Shade. Talking trash publicly about someone. This is one of those hip expressions that didn’t start in politics, but increasingly has found a home in political commentary, punditry and analysis, as harsh critical rhetoric flows unabated.

MSNBC host Chris Hayes recently noted Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul’s disparaging comments about other potential White House candidates, including Paul’s Florida colleague Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Paul “has been throwing shade left and right at some of his potential 2016 rivals,” Hayes said.

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House Speaker John Boehner won Internet fame – or infamy, depending on your perspective – for appearing to silently throw shade against President Obama during last month’s State of the Union address. As chronicled in a National Review listicle, the Ohio Republican displayed a range of facial expressions while sitting behind Obama. They included a “sad clap” shade; a “not caring” shade, reflecting the speaker’s dismissal of the president’s policy proposals; and a snarky, “look you up and down” shade/smirk.

Of course, the SOTU shade-throwing went both ways. Toward the end of the speech, Obama responded to Republican jeers by noting he had won two presidential elections and the right to stand at the speaker’s rostrum outlining his vision for the country. “Not saying Obama was throwing shade last night, but that ad lib about winning both of his elections just solved Global Warming,” Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon tweeted.

The phrase has grown so popular – it was used in coverage of both the Grammy Awards and halftime Super Bowl show, as well as in business news –that it found its way into a recent article in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill publication, about the Congressional Budget Office. “The agency shouldn’t be surprised if folks on Capitol Hill stop taking its calls altogether – particularly since the telecommunications gods appear to already be throwing shade,” reporter Warren Rojas wrote above a photo of a critical-looking telephone caller-ID readout.

And its political usage has even crossed international boundaries. Earlier this week, The Guardian used it to describe an Australian politician who challenged Prime Minister Tony Abbott: “Malcolm Turnbull is not throwing shade at the prime minister just for kicks, he’s surfing the prevailing sentiment in the partyroom.”

Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Decoder Voices.