The Origins of Derp

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A bit of Internet vernacular has slipped its way into, of all things, the ongoing spat between Republican reformers and conservatives. Josh Barro at Business Insider wrote a post this morning responding to Red State's Erick Erickson, who tried to take Barro down a peg following a favorable profile of Barro by Jonathan Chait in The Atlantic. Barro ends the post — entitled "Erick Erickson Shows Everything That's Wrong With the GOP" — with this gem of a kicker:

Basically, Erickson is derpy. And Erickson has big appeal to conservatives because lots of them are derpy. But the country is getting less derpy, and in time the Republican party will have to get less derpy, too. That’s my project, and I don’t expect Erickson to like it.

Paul Krugman followed Barro's post with an item of his own, "Moral Derpitude":

I feel for Barro; really I do. But he has no home in today’s GOP, which simply has no room for the non-derpy, and to all appearances never will.

Derp? Derpy? What are these guys talking about?

Roughly defined, derp is an onomatopoeic exclamation uttered in response to a boneheaded action of some kind. Its adjective form, derpy, describes someone who is prone to acting like an idiot. Derpitude is the persistent state of being derpy. Over the past few years, the political class on Twitter has appropriated the term as a pejorative to point out an obtuse or stupid argument. (Slate's Dave Weigel has been arguably the leading proponent of derpdom.)

The origins of the word can be traced back to BASEketball, the 1998 film by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. KnowYourMeme, which catalogues this sort of thing, says this (semi-NSFW-ish) scene is the first recorded instance of derp.

But derp found greater traction once Parker and Stone introduced a new character on South Park in 1999. In the episode "The Succubus," the beloved Chef is replaced by Mr. Derp in the school cafeteria, who carries a hammer and hits himself in the head, yelling "Derp!" while falling on the ground. Real highbrow comedy.

KnowYourMeme attributes the spread of derp and its extension, herp derp, to 4Chan, the birthplace of countless Internet memes. The rise of rage comics further helped to bring the phrase into the mainstream, with characters Derp and Derpina becoming popular among the Reddit crowd.

Some have claimed that this morning's developments portend the arrival of Peak Derp:

However, Google shows us that interest in derp reached its highest level in July 2012:

Whether this has anything to do with a certain presidential campaign, we can't say.