Bill O'Reilly and the term "Folks"

The other day I caught several minutes of O’Reilly doing his Bill O’Reilly thing. In the middle of it, he did something which struck me as odd. Let me see if I can explain.

He was saying something which, had I said it myself, I would have phrased something like “This is something we should let the people decide. And the people have decided, with their votes. The people’s decision should stand.”

Something like that.

But here’s how O’Reilly put it. (I quote, well, paraphrase, from memory, thusly: ) “This is something the folks should decide. And the folks have decided, with their votes. The folk’s decision should stand.”

Okay, what struck me as odd about this is, he’s using the word “folks” here in a very non-standard way. In normal English, we just don’t go around using the term “folks” this way. He seems to be using the term to refer to the population of the nation at large. But the word just isn’t used that way in standard English. Rather, it is used to refer to some group explicitly specified in conversational context by some descriptive clause. For example, “The folks in the other room,” or “The folks who disagree with me,” or “Those folks over there,” and so on. We don’t just say “The folks” do this or “The folks” do that, leaving the referent of “folks” unspecified.

Except O’Reilly did, at least in this segment. Why is this?

It may be he’s got some strange ideolect of his own going. It may be there’s a regional usage I don’t know of which he finds perfectly natural.

There is a clear precedent in history, however, for using a term like “folks” in much this same way. The german “volk” works like this, and is a direct cognate of “folks.”

Use of the term “volk” in this kind of context was a well known rhetorical tactic in Germany in the first half of the 20th century. Now, for all I know, all kinds of political groups used “volk” talk in their rhetoric. But the term is now marked as being especially relevant to the kind of talk which led to the rise of National Socialism.

I can’t figure out exactly what the rationale would be for O’Reilly to try to resurrect a usage from another language and another time in a contemporary context, especially one so negatively marked as this usage is.

But the parallel between O’Reilly’s “folks” and the German rhetorical usage of “volk” seems clear. Because I have a tendency toward paranoia when it comes to politics, the parallel freaks me out.

“folksy” in English means “simple and unpretentious in behavior”, so he was likely trying to use a similar word to refer to the simple, salt-of-earth, “common sense” people this implies. I doubt he was making any kind of parallel to the German usage.

I use the word “folks” in place of “people” or “staff” or “personel”. Drives my wife crazy. She thinks that the word “folks” is synonymous with the word “parents”.

O’Reilly tries to style himself as a populist. Using the word “folks” sounds more folksy to him.

Yeah, I think you’re reading waaay too much into it trying to find a parallel to the Nazi use of “volk.” Saying folks is just a kind of code word for all those good, red-blooded, salt of the earth Americans who will of course vote the “right” way on the issue, as opposed to those elitist, left coast snobs.

But, as quoted here, it does sound awfully weird. Not Nazi weird, just strange. I would never say “the folks’ decision should stand” because it sounds wrong to me. For context, I sometimes use the word in conversation so it’s not just the use of the word which sounds wrong to me. It sounds oddly foreign, as well, because folks is a synonym for several other words which I would find perfectly acceptable in this context. (For example: people) Like when nonnative speakers use the wrong word or idiom. Maybe that’s what’s hitting the godwin nerve of our fine OP.