Treade a worme on the tayle, and it must turne agayne.
~John Heywood Proverb Collection (1546 AD)
The above quote is the origin of the phrase “the worm turns,” popularized by William Shakespeare. In Henry VI, Part 3, Lord Clifford justifies the murder of Edmund, Earl of Rutland, stating, “The smallest worm will turn being trodden on.” A more complete explanation is provided by Grammarist, a website comprised of writers who respond to readers’ queries about the origins, meaning and uses of English idioms.
The worm has turned means that someone who has previously been downtrodden has triumphed, someone who has previously been unlucky has become lucky, or someone who has previously been obedient has spoken up. The idea is that someone’s attitude toward another or his strength of conviction has changed.
So what was the event or events which triggered today’s post. Based on the title, you may think it is obvious and not very creative. It does not take a genius to make the connection between “the worm” and “de-worm” within 24 hours of the FDC tweeting, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow, Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” The warning was in response to suggestions on Facebook and by right wing media hosts the drug ivermectin, an ingredient in horse and cow de-worming treatment, was an alternative protection against COVID-19. [NOTE: Did the FDA really need to use dialect like “y’all” to identify the audience most susceptible to this claim? Now, had they substituted, “you’se guys,” that would have been surprising.]
However, the FDA directive was the equivalent of the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand his wife Sophie. The royals’ demise was not the sole cause of the subsequent global conflict, only the catalyst which accelerated a chain of events which culminated in World War I. Likewise, the reference to de-worming started a similar chain of events beginning with research into the metaphorical use of the phrase, “the worm turns.” Quickly followed by these questions, based on the Grammarist definition. Who are the worms in this case? Why did they feel downtrodden or unlucky or obedient? Have they triumphed or been subject to a change in luck or become newly outspoken?
To start this conversation, one must recognize there are many species of human worms. Those cultists and sore losers who perpetuate the “big lie” and participated in the January 6th insurrection. Those who are pro-choice when it comes to a life saving vaccine yet want to deny women the right to control their own bodies. But the most disgusting and virulent strain might be those who march to the rhythms of chants such as “You will not replace us, “Blood and soil” and “The South will rise again.” Their reemergence provides the best laboratory for observing the the life cycle of these erect tubular invertebrates.
We begin by asking why they feel downtrodden. It was not always so. For almost 250 years (1619-1865) two governments (Great Britain and the United States) offered de jure protection of the myth of a superior white race, allowing half the new world to treat transplanted Africans as chattel. For the next 100 years (1865-1965), former slaves and their decedents in the antebellum South and elsewhere continued to be treated as second-class citizens under Jim Crow laws and both de jure and de facto segregation. At the same time, they believed the future of Anglo-Saxon, protestant America was threatened by the influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants.
One can argue 1965 was the beginning of what might be called the white nationalists’ “downtrodden era.” It lasted 50 years during which nine U.S. presidents affirmed there was no place in America for this kind of bigotry and ignorance. But the worms were never in danger of extinction. They merely went underground.
The current “revenge era” began in 2015 when candidate Donald Trump launched a presidential campaign under the MAGA banner sending a signal it was okay for bigots to come out of the woodwork. How lucky to have found such a champion of their cause. In fact, so lucky that they became cultists willing to following their leader’s every directive. Therefore, it comes as no surprise many of the conspiracy theories espoused by anti-vaxxers have their origins on neo-Nazi and white supremacist social media that promote fears the vaccines are a form of population control or a for-profit scam perpetrated by Jews.
And come out from the woodwork they did. Trump’s election was falsely interpreted by the likes of the Proud Boys and the Nationalist Social Club that Americans were ready to welcome them back and support their cause. Conversations which were limited for half a century to secret meetings and the darkest corners of the internet are now taking place at rallies in major cities and on Facebook.
Make no mistake. As Carol Anne Freeling (portrayed by Heather O’Rourke) proclaimed in the movie Poltergeist, “They’re back!” And even though a worm, as Heywood suggests, has turned, it is the same worm which always inhabited society, and is sorely in need of de-worming.
For what it’s worth.