Welcome to www.comprofessor.com a.k.a. Lynch Coaching: Media and Communication Prof's News and Views from Art Lynch. This blog exists to stimulate critical thinking, provide information on communication and media, stimulate discussion and share ideas. For additional media and other news see also sagactoronline.com. Thank you and tell your friends. - Art Lynch
The office of the president offers a lot of responsibilities and
privileges. Your actions drive the world's most powerful military,
billions of dollars worth of domestic policy and, perhaps most
importantly, the way the country speaks.
That's what linguist and writer Paul Dickson contends in his new book, Words From the White House.
It's a look back through history at the words and phrases popularized
by our presidents — including the ones they don't get credit for
Teddy Roosevelt, for example, loved language, Dickson
tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "He would create a word like 'mollycoddle,'
for sort of somebody you would say was timid, and 'bully pulpit,' you
know, the bully pulpit being the presidency itself." Presidents, Dickson
says, have to be eloquent. "They have to be able to get up there and
Dickson says the most eloquent and convincing
president was Thomas Jefferson. "To this day, in the Oxford English
Dictionary, there are 114 terms which are laid at his feet — either pure
coinages or him being the first to use it," he says. "And some of them
are quite interesting."
Did you know that Jefferson was
apparently the first to use the word "ottoman" to refer not to the
empire, but to the footstool? And Dickson says words like "pedicure" and
"lengthily" are also attributed to our third president — along with,
appropriately enough, "neologize."
"He writes a letter to John
Adams, who's another very good creator of language, ... and says, 'It's
our obligation as Americans to neologize, to create a new language,
which is the American language,' " Dickson says. That language would be
full of Americanisms like "OK" and "slam dunk," which might be sneered
at by a speaker of the King's English.
The new American
language is curter and more direct. "You say mob instead of 'a large
group of angry people.' That's Americanism," he says.
Paul Dickson is the author of more than 55 books. His latest, Words From the White House, describes the lexical innovations of America's presidents.
In the modern era, Dickson points to Harry Truman as a master of
presidential language. "He brought back old folk terms like
'snallygaster,' and he had wonderful slogans like 'the buck stops here.'
" One of the most interesting terms Truman brought back, Dickson says,
was the word "trocar," which was an instrument farmers used in rural
Missouri, where he was from, "when a bull or a cow had eaten too much
clover and had amassed a huge amount of gas inside of them. ... They
would use this instrument to allow the gas to come out through the
proper orifice." There was, he adds, the occasional joke about a
whistling noise sounding across the plains when farmers applied the
trocar to their livestock.
"Truman actually, in a letter to one
of his aides, said that he felt ... 'somebody should take a trocar to
Congress and use it to deflate the egos,' " Dickson says. "I like
Truman's stuff because he was a very plain-speaking man who used these
rural things that were probably a great puzzlement to more urban
Speaking of plain-spoken, George W. Bush also makes an
appearance in the book. Bush was known for scripted phrases like "Axis
of Evil," but also spontaneous utterances like "embetter."
gave him the benefit of the doubt because everybody was howling and
yelling and screaming ... 'embetter' was first cited in the Oxford
English Dictionary, with the same exact meaning that George Bush gave
it, in 1583," Dickson says, though it has since dwindled into obscurity.
Likewise, the OED traces "resignate" all the way back to 1531.
"One of the ones they really tried to nail him with was 'strategery,' "
says Dickson. "Which of course was not Bush himself but was Saturday Night Live ... but 'misunderestimate,' which was one of the real howlers that a lot of people cited, is actually fairly useful."
need to be spontaneous, but also have a good understanding of the
language in order to coin new words, Dickson says. "When Roosevelt first
gave his fireside chats to coach the country out of the Depression,
[he] made a very conscious decision to use the language of baseball, as
opposed to the language of politics. ... The president, in order to be a
really good communicator, has to realize that he can't talk to the
people with the same metaphor they would talk to, you know, someone in
his party hierarchy, that if he really wants to get to people, he's got
to give them something they can latch onto."