Gypsy Moths No More

Lymantria dispar just doesn't have the same ring to it.

The politically correct wokerati are at it again with their critical insect theories, the New York Times reports.

On Wednesday, the Entomological Society of America announced it was removing “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” as recognized common names for two insects.

We’re worried that bugs are getting their feelings hurt? What kind of snowflakes are they, anyway?

For Ethel Brooks, a Romani scholar, the move is long overdue.

As a child in New Hampshire, Brooks loved watching worms and caterpillars crawl across her hand. But one particular caterpillar, the hairy larvae of the species Lymantria dispar, terrified her. The larvae would swarm and strip the leaves from a tree, leaving behind so much destruction that people sometimes called them a “plague.” But no one blamed L. dispar. Instead they blamed “gypsy moth caterpillars,” the species’ common name.

“That’s how they see us,” Brooks remembered thinking as a child. “We eat things and destroy things around us.”

Brooks, now chair of the department of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has spoken out against the use of the pejorative in fashion and college parades, she said. But Brooks never imagined the pejorative could be stricken from its use in the more staid realm of science.

“It’s hideous and superracist and it’s hurtful,” she said. “But what can you do about it?”

That seems awfully sensitive. And (something) (something) history.

The move by the entomological group is the first time it has removed a common name from an insect on the grounds that it is offensive to a community of people, according to representatives from the society.

“If people are feeling excluded because of what we call something, that’s not acceptable,” Michelle Smith, the society’s president, said. “We’re going to make changes to be a welcoming and inclusive society for all entomologists.”

Seriously, I don’t know how many Romani etymologists there are but it’s reasonable enough not to want to offend them. And, presumably, there are a lot more Romani non-etymologists who are offended by the term. As a non-Romani, non-etymologist, I spend very little time, indeed, thinking about the moths formerly known as gypsy and was completely unaware that an ant shared that nickname. But, apparently, etymologists are quicker than most at making such decisions:

In the 20th century, the Entomological Society of America formally recognized a list of approved common names in an effort to standardize what many insect species were called. The society maintains a committee that reviews proposals and makes recommendations for new or revised common names.

The group was aware that Lymantria dispar’s common name was derogatory, and it received its first formal request in 2020 to remove the moth’s name from its list, Stelzig said. The proposal went to the common-names committee, which proposed revising its policies for acceptable common names. The committee also reached out to Romani scholars, including Brooks, Magda Matache and Victoria Rios, to hear their thoughts.

In March, the organization’s governing board approved those policies. In June, they elected to remove the pejorative names from the moth and the ant species. “They turned the recommendation around really quickly,” Smith said.

As to the new name?

Lymantria dispar and Aphaenogastedriven araneoides will most likely remain without a common name for some time (although if you have suggestions, the society would like to hear them). In the meantime, if you see a hairy, defoliating caterpillar in New Hampshire, you can call it by its scientific name.

I propose Washington football moth.

FILED UNDER: Humor, Race and Politics, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    The Donald J. Trump moth.

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  2. flat earth luddite says:

    I propose Washington football moth.

    James, stop it. I’m not allowed to laugh this much at work — the snorts and giggling are disturbing my co-workers.

    @CSK: ditto to you, CSK.

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  3. Neil J Hudelson says:

    On the farm my dad used to call them “Those g*d*mned little f*ckers.” As a name, it’s got a certain ring to it. Tent worms had the same name though, so that could get confusing from an entomological etymological perspective.

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  4. Mister Bluster says:

    For 35 years I traveled the country like a gypsy seeking work in the telecommunications industry.
    To the local company help I was always the fvckin’ contractor.
    I told them that I was Telephone Trash and proud of it!

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    Funny, I always thought the name was due to the marking on the wings.

    Considering the economic difficulties the Roma have been in, I’m pretty sure they would trade all that politically wonderful nomenclature for better job opportunities.

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  6. Gustopher says:

    This is one of those “I get it, it barely affects me, sure” type of things. I assume that someone, somewhere is writing a three thousand word screed about political correctness infecting entomology, and if they are very clever they will work in the etymology of the entomology.

    As far as new names: I really like the sound of Romani Moth and Romani Ant, but I guess that’s totally missing the point of the rename. The repetition of the M and N sounds is just pleasing though.

    Given the destruction to the local environment where they set down momentarily, I think the Olympic Moth might be good. Has it turned out well for any host city?

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    I can understand not wanting your identity associated with the moth that is defoliating the Northeast, so, sure.

    On a completely other hand, the subject of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” sketch came up at a family gathering and my daughter rounded on me with the scorn and intensity only the first born can bring when I mentioned I thought it was funny. “It is SO RACIST!”

    I was SO PUZZLED. But I thought and thought. Nothing. So I finally asked. Long story short, she thought it was “Hu’s on first” and that the confusion was caused by making fun of Chinese names. I sh*t you not.

    After explaining, I didn’t even comment that I thought it just as funny, maybe funnier, if the confusion was initiated by someone with the surname “Hu” rather than “Who” and couldn’t see a darn thing racist about it. I just don’t have the kind of energy needed to be on the receiving end of a discussion/lecture like that.

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  8. DrDaveT says:

    That seems awfully sensitive.

    That’s the motto printed on the name tags at the White Privilege convention.

    Seriously, as amusing as I find this whole thing is some ways, you still clearly don’t get that you have no standing to have an opinion about how sensitive is too sensitive when you are not the target. Telling other people when they ought to be offended (or not) could only be more privileged behavior if you charged them for the service and took away their right to vote if they didn’t pay.

    (Do you similarly think that people from the Netherlands are being overly sensitive when they object to the litany of pejorative English phrases “dutch treat”, “dutch book”, “dutch courage”, “dutch uncle”, etc.? )

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: Dude, it was a joke. Do I find the term offensive? No. Like ‘Washington Redskins,’ the name just evokes the thing not the namesake. But, unlike ‘Washington Redskins,’ changing it to avoid hurting people’s feelings has next to no cost and seems like an easy call. (I supported changing the Football Team’s name, too, but grant that there are serious commercial, historical, and emotional issues counterbalancing the offensiveness.)

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  10. R. Dave says:

    @DrDaveT: Do you similarly think that people from the Netherlands are being overly sensitive when they object to the litany of pejorative English phrases “dutch treat”, “dutch book”, “dutch courage”, “dutch uncle”, etc.?

    Umm…yes?

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  11. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Odd coincidence. In one of his Reagan sketches, Johnny Carson had a take on it which started with a Chinese official calling the White House, and Reagan’s secretary, or aide, telling him “Mr. President, Hu’s on the phone.”

    Anyway:

    You throw the ball to first base-
    Then who gets it?
    Naturally!
    Naturally?
    Naturally.
    Ok. I throw the ball to first base and Naturally gets it.
    No! You throw the ball to first base-
    Then who gets it?
    Naturally!
    That’s what I said!

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    Gee, and I thought that the traveling people should be properly referred to as Roma as the term gypsy was denigrating. Since only scientists refer to flora and fauna by the Latin names, someone better come up with a common easy to remember name or they will forever be know to the non-scientific, inadequately sensitive as g-moths.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m with @Gustopher:: “I get it, it barely affects me, sure.”

    Note, I added the period because I guess Gus doesn’t have to live by the grammar rules like the rest of us.

    But also, as a cis male I think it’s time we took a critical look at the name cockroach.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Jew fish? Don’t care.
    Jew’s harp? Don’t care.
    That so and so jewed me down? A wince with a lingering aftertaste of ethnic pride.
    Jew eat? I thought you’d never ask.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Although I hasten to add that I don’t speak for all Hebrews on this. I mean, the jewry’s still out.

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  16. grumpy realist says:

    And if we want to have a nice, wholesome name for the miserable little thing, how about calling it “the grifter moth”?

    (And it’s not the moth that causes the problem–it’s all those damn caterpillars. I grew up in New England and I remember one year when they were so prolific they were dropping off the trees on our heads and all the trees looked horribly moth-eaten.)

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  17. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    That pun is so awful I wish I’d made it.

    Mazel tov.

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  18. Kathy says:

    If they cause environmental damage and care for nothing and no one but themselves, isn’t a replacement name obvious?

    I christen thee, disgusting little bug, The Trump Moth.

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  19. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Beat you to it.

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  20. Boyd says:

    If some humorless troll disallows “Washington football moth,” maybe we can call it “America’s Moth.”

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  21. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    “The etymology of entomology”

    That was very good. Big nerdy laugh.

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  22. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The only person I ever knew who used “jewed me down” unironically (wince) also believed evolutionary artifacts like trilobytes were a test set up by Capital G God to test our faith.

    Suburban. White. Cis. Male. Idiot. TM.

    I kid you not. I intensely disliked that guy before he displayed / deployed that shit. After that my eyes rolled like marbles with my homies in his presence. Are you fucking kidding me? He was not.

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  23. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    Lots of things have been renamed in the past for references that no longer applied.

    Bully for the people who object. All for it. I now know who are snowflake assholes.

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  24. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Dude, it was a joke.

    Bzzzzt. Wrong answer. Have you been completely oblivious to how “it was a joke” has been used by the defenders of discrimination over the past few years? Stop digging.

    In one sense, this is a trivial thing for me to get pissed about. In another sense, it represents so many other things that I can’t let it just slide. You have not yet achieved step 1 of your 12 step program on this.

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  25. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Yeah, I forgot your comment by the time I made mine.

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  26. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    A tiny adjustment we all have done have thousands of times since we acquired language.

    Adjusted to be less pejorative. Not a problem. We do it it weekly or monthly. De riguer. Adjust adjectives. Refine descriptors. Adverbs. Language changes.

    Someone who who draws the hard line at Gypsy Moth as a line I will not cross is bullshitting themself. You crossed that line 20 times this year at least subconsciously.

    Objecting to people who object to “Gypsy” for a god damned name of an obscure type of moth is fucking demented.

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  27. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Trump is so loathsome it probably bears repeating.

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  28. de stijl says:

    Would you call an an autistic child a Mongoloid in the presence of any parent now?

    You would not unless you wanted to get your ass kicked righteously by a very pissed off parent.

    Face it, you wouldn’t. You would be stymied by social convention.

    Grow up. It’s one adjective. You can adapt. It’s no big freaking deal. You can cope.

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  29. JohnMcC says:

    So ‘Gypsy Moth’ is no more? Nobody tell the shade of Sir Francis Chichester!

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  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    That exact tone, that humorless, smug, condescending tone larded with unearned authority is why I can’t stand so many progressives. You couldn’t sell me on free brownies with that tone. It is simply insufferable.

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  31. de stijl says:

    It’s no big deal. Some Roma object.

    That makes it a big deal!

    The worst bullshit is the bullshit we tell ourselves and present as if we actually believe.

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  32. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You are a bright person.

    That you don’t see it is on you and not my business. Roma object. You do get that? A perfectly cromulent replacement is proposed….

    I will adopt the new terminology. Why not?

    Fuck me! This is the stupidest thing ever.

    God damned reactionaries fronting as progressive liberals. Cannot budge a fucking inch when traditionally beset people ask for a tiny boon that means nothing to us but a lot to them.

    Aaaaaaah! Angry now.

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  33. de stijl says:

    @James Joyner:

    A “joke” at the expense of a group traditionally undervalued, despised, rejected, and name-called?

    What was going through your brain? A god-damned “joke”?

    Your point was ridicule. Your POV was as gatekeeper. That was shitty.

    You should know better.

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  34. Jc says:

    “Lighten up” comes to mind. The fact this has so many replies and most if not all of us could care less….it’s a big LOL.

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  35. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Note, I added the period because I guess Gus doesn’t have to live by the grammar rules like the rest of us.

    If you’re quoting an internal monologue in the middle of a sentence, do you put a period on the end of the quote? When you’re using the sub-thought as an adjective?

    This is one of those “I get it, it barely affects me, sure” type of things.

    The natural way of saying it wouldn’t have a full stop after the “sure” — the vocal tone would likely shift for the sub-thought to separate it. I’m working on a rambling, shuffling style here that’s a bit less formal and a bit more like I actually speak.

    A voice that reads “well-educated day-drinker.”

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  36. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl:

    A perfectly cromulent replacement is proposed….

    No replacement has been proposed, cromulent or otherwise. It is Lymantria dispar, the moth formerly known as Gypsy.

    As far as Dr. Joyner’s joke goes, it had so little punch that it’s hard to tell if it punched down. Was it at the expense of the Roma, the notion of renaming everything everywhere as soon as someone somewhere gets offended, or all those racist white people who keep coming up with terrible racist names? It’s hard to tell, but it’s clear that it wasn’t revealing his deep hatred of the Romani people, just a general bemusement.

    This is what the phrase “ok, boomer,” was made for. Sure, he’s Gen X, and sure he’s no older than most of us, but he’s got a bit more of that Boomer mentality there.

    He makes a weak joke, it sounds vaguely racist but was well meaning, give him a gentle “ok, boomer” and move on.

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  37. The Q says:

    A Chichester reference. The beauty of this site.

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  38. de stijl says:

    @Jc:

    Should Roma folks LOL? Should they lighten up?

    “It’s just one fucking word after all. What’s one word? We’re joking! You’re one of the good ones. Lighten up!”

    Joyner set his bit up as a “joke”. A joke punches up not down. Intentional down punching is ridicule and not funny and in this case offensive. I see it as unintended jack-assery. Meanly meant.

    “It was just a joke” as a dodge *really* pisses me off.

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  39. The Q says:

    gustopher, in light of Doug’s passing, can we realize that he and Dr. Joyner are conservatives/ Republicans that can be reasoned with and the need to browbeat our gracious host is really unnecessary?

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  40. de stijl says:

    I despise bully shit.

    It pisses me off hard and nasty. I hate bully behavior. I hate the “I was just joking” excuse.

    Am I riled disproportionately, perhaps yes. But not by that much. Bullying often looks like “joking”.

    I stand by my anger here.

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  41. R. Dave says:

    @de stijl: It’s no big deal. Some Roma object.

    That makes it a big deal!

    No, it really doesn’t. We are in way morally obligated to let the most neurotic and overly-sensitive members of any given group dictate what is and is not a big deal. Quite the opposite, in fact – we have an obligation not to blithely accept their implicit claim to speak for the group as a whole let alone allow them to push society in general to adopt their neuroses.

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  42. Ken_L says:

    I have heard that Senator Lindsey Graham is furiously trying to get a new name for ‘the army worm’. Its negative connotations are a slight on his beloved military.

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  43. de stijl says:

    @de stijl: @Gustopher:

    When people I truly respect tell me I might be over-reacting I listen.

    But I never ended a jibe with a Washington football team name poke. I found that revealing in a bad disrespectful way of a certain person.

    I am still kinda pissed off. I would prefer people paid attention to why I am still pissed off. That was a bullshit OP.

    I need to let go now.

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  44. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That exact tone, that humorless, smug, condescending tone larded with unearned authority is why I can’t stand so many progressives.

    Yeah, I was waiting for you to show up and climb up on your soapbox.

    I wasn’t talking to you, or to the world. I was talking to James, who is the one who needed to hear it. So go enjoy a cigar and a whisky and your knowledge of a contrarian stance well taken (speaking of smug and condescending) and we’ll just take the rest of your usual screed as given.

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  45. de stijl says:

    @R. Dave:

    Dude! I was trying to let go! Of course it matters. Are you a sociopath?

    As to your text, fuck off! Wow!

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  46. de stijl says:

    Have you heard ‘Motor Away’ by Guided By Voices?

    That song got me into GBV.

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  47. Richard Gardner says:

    They quote only female Romani experts, sounds odd to me (biased). In particular zero mention of Ian Hancock of the University of Texas who pretty much invented Roma studies in the USA (He is Roma). I live in an area with a decent sized hidden Romani population, only reason I’ve followed this topic. My impression is they want to be separate and not integrate (like Hassidic Jews and some Islamic sects). I’ll call it, the moth formerly known as Gypsy.

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  48. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: Maybe you’re right and it’s worse than I would interpret it — I’m just saying consider intent, and decide how angry you want to be. We’ve known James for ages and if he writes something inconsiderate, it’s because he didn’t bother to consider it, rather than malice.

    Sometimes “jokes” are just to piss people off, and sometimes they are meant to gently tweak, and sometimes someone just thinks they are funnier than they actually are. James isn’t in the first group, he even says it’s fine to rename this moth.

    I don’t think this is “I identify as an Apache Attack Helicopter”, which is said just to invalidate people, and you seem to have that level of anger. There is a slight whiff of an attack helicopter in the line, but in the context of the whole post… it was just a dumb attempt at a joke (not a “joke”) that came off wrong.

    The guy who writes this is at least 80% on your side:

    Seriously, I don’t know how many Romani etymologists there are but it’s reasonable enough not to want to offend them. And, presumably, there are a lot more Romani non-etymologists who are offended by the term.

    Also, this: https://www.gocomics.com/basicinstructions/2019/07/15 — I think that first panel is one of the funniest things ever.

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  49. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: @de stijl: @Gustopher: Folks, this isn’t hard.

    “politically correct wokerati are at it again with their critical insect theories”
    “We’re worried that bugs are getting their feelings hurt? What kind of snowflakes are they, anyway?”
    “And (something) (something) history”

    The post isn’t making fun of Roma.

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  50. R. Dave says:

    This Twitter thread from Tom Nichols seems on point for this discussion: link.

    Posts 3 through 7 are the crux of the point:

    What so many intellectuals miss is how bored and listless these people on both the right and left feel, and how energizing and *good* it feels to believe the lies, no matter what side they come from. It’s ennobling. It’s heroic. It’s self-actualizing. /3

    Are there “forgotten places” that breed despair? Is the social order unjust? Sure. But mostly, the people leading the charges on this stuff aren’t the primary victims of the forgetting or the injustice. Middle-income whites and kids on Ivy campuses are not the victims here. /4

    The worst off, most dispossessed in this country don’t even *vote*, for crying out loud. This is the lashing out of the bored bourgeoisie, not “stories that feel true to them.” These are stories they WANT to be true because it would ennoble their own dull lives to believe it. /5

    We ignore at our peril – and yes, this is part of my book’s argument – the idea that a bored and affluent middle-class, raised on a steady diet of narcissism and self-actualization are the real danger here. We have to stop making up noble excuses for illiberal ideas. /6

    If you wonder why super-privileged kids or retirees in nice condos are so angry, it’s because it feels *great* to be angry. Otherwise, life becomes about getting a job (if you’re young) or just accepting the twilight of age. Easy heroism is crack to Americans raised on cable. /7

    Absolutely no one was actually harmed or even genuinely impacted in any meaningful way by the common name of some moth – a common name using a term that was never even widely considered a slur even by most of its subjects until quite recently – but we’ve established a social norm now of rewarding neurotic offense-mining by pretending its some sort of noble and dramatic fight against oppression. It’s really not, though, and we should all stop acting like it is.

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