Teabonics refers to spelling and grammatical errors associated with members of the Tea Party movement, particularly the picket signs displayed during various Tea Party demonstrations.
The American conservative / libertarian populist political movement known as the Tea Party began holding demonstrations as early as March 6th, 2009. On March 28th, 2010, Flickr user Pargon uploaded a set of photos under the tag "Teabonics." The photos featured signs and banners with incorrect spelling and grammar from various Tea Party protests around the country, and were accompanied by the following description:
These are signs seen primarily at Tea Party Protests.
They all feature "creative" spelling or grammar.
This new dialect of the English language shall be known as "Teabonics."
Much of the initial spread occurred on March 30th, 2011 after the Flickr page was posted to the Balloon Juice blog. The single topic blog Tea Bag Fail, and the first Urban Dictionary submission were created the same day. The political blog Little Green Footballs began featuring a teabonics "sign of the day" on April 9th, 2010. Pargon's Flickr page has been featured in The New York Daily News, Seattle Weekly, The Guardian, Boing Boing and Gawker. A Facebook fan page has accumulated 847 likes, and the original Flickr set has received over 1 million views as of October 12th, 2011.
Pargon has commented on the spread of Teabonics, clarifying how it began and spread so rapidly.
The first indication I got that this was gonna be big came the afternoon of Tuesday, March 30 when I started to get emails from Flickr that people were following me. Just a few, then more and more. I also received a direct message from a Flickr user letting me know they found my Teabonics collection because of a posting on Bob Cesca’s blog. Bob Cesca attributed this to John Cole, who linked to the Flickr collection on the Balloon Juice blog, which, as far as I know, is the first source of publicity.
It was even a trending Twitter topic for awhile. (Even Roger Ebert tweeted about it, which made my day!)
Within a couple days I had received a number of solicitations from literary agents asking if I’d be interested in turning the set into a book. (As I said, I didn’t shoot the photos, so I certainly wasn’t going to try and profit from someone else’s work or let it be falsely attributed.)
It was by no means expected or even hoped for, but was awesome to see nonetheless.
The images became controversial among Tea Party members, who claimed that a few signs with misspelled words painted an over-generalized picture that the protesters were uneducated and clueless. They pointed out that many of the signs were being carried by children or senior citizens, who may have had a harder time spelling. They also responded with several images of pro-Obama and teachers union rallies featuring grammatically incorrect signs. Many Tea Party candidates and leaders, including radio host Rush Limbaugh, claimed that the rallies were being infiltrated by Democrats with misspelled and racist signs, in an attempt to make the movement look bad.
On July 18th, 2010, Tea Party member and former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin tweeted a comment regarding a planned Cordoba House project, also known as the "Ground Zero Mosque", in New York City. Followers began to notice that Palin had invented the word "refudiate" in the tweet, for which there was no known definition. The tweet was quickly taken down, but screenshots of the tweet were subsequently posted on various sites around the web. The next day, Palin sent out another tweet embracing the newly coined word, going as far as to compare herself to William Shakespeare.
This inspired the creation of a new hashtag on Twitter, #shakespalin, #bardofwasilla and #cariboubardbie that would take famous quotes from Shakespeare's plays and comedically intertwine them with quotes from Sarah Palin or comments on her personality. The refudiate controversy and #shakespalin were featured on various sites including Huffington Post, The Washington Times, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Pundit Kitchen. On November 15th, 2010 "refudiate" was named one of Oxford English Dictionary’s 'Top Words of 2010'.
Search queries for "teabonics" spiked in April of 2010, the month after Pargon's Flickr page was created.