Dominic Cummings 1 has recently used the Yupik 2 word kunlangeta to describe Boris Johnson 3—as reported, for example, in the following from Partygate: Met police give ‘damning’ evidence to Sue Gray 4 probe, by Angus Cochrane, published in The National (Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland) of Monday 24th January 2022:
Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former top aide, has […] provided written evidence. He has said he is willing to swear “under oath” that his ex-boss lied to Parliament about parties. 5
“I have answered questions in writing and will answer further questions in writing if she [Gray] wants,” he announced, adding: “Other damaging stories will come out until he [Johnson] is gone. It’s clear talking to people in No 10 and 70 Whitehall that many officials are desperate to shove the kunlangeta off the ice this week.”
1 The British political strategist Dominic Cummings (born 1971) served as Chief Adviser to Boris Johnson 3 from July 2019 to November 2020.
2 Yupik: a) A member of an indigenous people of Siberia, the Aleutian Islands and Alaska – b) One of the two major divisions of the Eskimo branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family, the other being Inuit; a language of this group (Central Alaskan Yup’ik is a self-designation, from yuk, person, and -pik, genuine).
3 The British politician, author and former journalist Boris Johnson (born 1964) has served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party since July 2019.
4 The British civil servant Susan Gray is currently Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office.
5 Cf. A full list of alleged government Covid rule-busting ‘parties’, by Aubrey Allegretti, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Monday 24th January 2022.
The phrase to shove the kunlangeta off the ice, used by Dominic Cummings, refers to the following from Psychiatric Labeling in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Similar kinds of disturbed behavior appear to be labeled abnormal in diverse cultures, by the U.S. psychiatric epidemiologist Jane M. Murphy (1929-2021), published in Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) of Friday 12th March 1976:
—Note: The data presented by Jane M. Murphy derived mainly from a year of field work, in 1954-55, in a village of Yupik-speaking Eskimos on an island in the Bering Sea, and also from an informant, who described the life experiences of the 499 Eskimos who constituted a total village census over the 15 years previous to, and including, the year of investigation:
The Eskimos have a word, kunlangeta, which means “his mind knows what to do but he does not do it.” This is an abstract term for the breaking of many rules when awareness of the rules is not in question. It might be applied to a man who, for example, repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and does not go hunting and, when the other men are out of the village, takes sexual advantage of many women—someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment. One Eskimo among the 499 was called kunlangeta. When asked what would have happened to such a person traditionally, an Eskimo said that probably “somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.” This suggests that permissiveness has a limit even in a cultural group which in some respects, such as attitude toward heterosexual activity, is very lenient. The Yorubas 6 have a similarly abstract word, arankan, which means a person who always goes his own way regardless of others, who is uncooperative, full of malice, and bullheaded.
There are parallels between kunlangeta and arankan and our concept “psychopath”—someone who consistently violates the norms of society in multiple ways. Also, some of the specific acts of wrongdoing which Eskimos and Yorubas recognize might in our society be called evidence of “personality disorders.” In Western psychiatry, this term refers to sexual deviations, excessive use of drugs or alcohol, and a variety of behaviors that primarily cause trouble for other people rather than for the doer.
6 The Yorubas are an African people of south-western Nigeria and Benin.
The following, written in reaction to the use of kunlangeta by Dominic Cummings, is from Why ‘kunlangeta’ is perfect word for Tories, by ‘Wee Ginger Dug’, published in The National (Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland) of Monday 24th January 2022:
Kunlangeta is indeed a great word to describe Johnson, and indeed many others in this woeful Conservative government. […]
This is all highly typical behaviour of the Conservative Party. They are entirely motivated by what is in their own interests, no matter how it might damage anyone else.
Given the constant drip-drip of damaging stories in the press in recent days, it appears that there are indeed many in the Conservative Party who seek to push the kunlangeta off the ice. However, the problem for the rest of us is that they only seek to push the kunlangeta off the ice because they too are kunlangetas. The Yupik push the kunlangeta off the ice for the good of the village; the Tories are doing it because Johnson is now impeding their own ability to act in their selfish self-interest and to continue to screw over the rest of us.
The word kunlangeta had occasionally occurred before Dominic Cummings used it to describe Boris Johnson. The following, for example, is from Quibbles & Bits, published in the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana, USA) of Sunday 26th March 2006:
Walt Buras had an Inuit word for the unwise at last week’s School City of Mishawaka budget work session.
The word “kunlangeta” means “someone whose mind knows what to do but won’t do it,” Buras said, citing sociologist Jane Murphy. “I’m hoping this board will not pick up a nickname of ‘kunlangeta.’”
Buras spoke at the work session to encourage board members to vote against a recommendation to cut five elementary school and three high school teachers, two counselors and a number of other corporation jobs.
The Inuits of northwestern Alaska have a way of dealing with “kunlangeta,” he added.
“The entire community encourages this person to go hunting and when no one is looking, this person falls off the ice,” Buras said.
“I think I just got insulted,” board member Charles Trippel shot back at Buras, while a crowd of teachers and community members chuckled at the implications.
Trippel might be right. An online search reveals a little more about the “kunlangeta,” namely that Murphy was using it to describe people who lie, cheat, steal and shirk their duties.