Did Nikki Haley cross a line when she called Vivek Ramaswamy “scum” during Wednesday night’s U.S. Republican presidential debate?
Specifically, Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, said “You’re just scum” after protesting the fact that Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur, brought up Haley’s daughter’s during the event. Ramaswamy was defending his use of TikTok and noted that Haley’s adult child was on the social-media platform.
Haley’s remark quickly became one of the most quotable moments of the evening. Some defended her use of “scum” — “If the shoe fits” said one commentator on X — but others suggested that the word constitutes inappropriate trash talk.
And MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow observed of Haley’s “scum” comment that it was something she has “never heard, ever, in any debate” she’s ever covered.
This isn’t the first time a politician has gotten attention for using “scum,” however. In 2021, Britain’s deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner started what was described as “a war of words” against the country’s Conservative Party, led by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when she called the Conservatives “a bunch of scum.”
Even Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said of Rayner’s comment, “It’s not language that I would have used.” Nevertheless, Rayner refused to apologize for her remark — and even doubled down on her comments.
“What I was trying to get across…is the anger and frustration that people feel,” Rayner said.
To be clear, “scum” is not defined as a vulgar term — at least by the Merriam-Webster dictionary — in the same way that certain four-letter words are.
The dictionary platform notes that “scum” can refer to “a low, vile, or worthless person or group of people.” Of course, that’s in addition to its other meaning — as “extraneous matter or impurities risen to or formed on the surface of a liquid” (think pond scum).
The word has been around for centuries. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “scum” is derived at least partly from “schume,” a Middle Dutch term for foam or froth.