This article was updated on December 22, 2018.
On a worrisome day in Washington—with a government shutdown looming and the defense secretary resigning—a clip of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen served as unexpected comic relief. Nielsen, speaking before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, responded to a question from Representative Tom Marino by saying, “From Congress I would ask for wall. We need wall.”
"I would ask for wall. We need wall." pic.twitter.com/mkgHZWFgyI— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) December 20, 2018
Nielsen was, of course, referring to the wall along the southern border with Mexico that President Donald Trump has demanded that Congress fund, precipitating the shutdown threat. When asked by Marino to clarify what she meant by “wall,” she explained that what the administration envisions is really a “wall system,” combining walls, fencing, and various technology.
Nielsen’s plea for “wall”—as opposed to “a wall” or “the wall”—drew torrents of ridicule on Twitter. Oliver Willis of Shareblue Media posted the clip, confirming that it was “an actual quote” from the secretary of homeland security and not from the Incredible Hulk, despite Nielsen’s primitive-sounding “Hulk smash” locution. Besides the Hulk, “We need wall” reminded some of Steve Carell as the low-IQ weatherman Brick Tamland in Anchorman awkwardly declaring “I love lamp.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes mused, “Did DHS make a style guide change that there’s no definite article before wall?” Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo agreed that this seems like an intentional shift in usage, “but it’s not clear what the point is beyond sounding like you have some kind of focused brain damage.”