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Latest Bushism:

Here's Slate's latest Bushism of the Day:

I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein.

Here's the full context — note that Slate persists in refusing to even link to the full statements:

I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein. I'm with six other Iraqi citizens, as well, who suffered the same fate. They are examples of the brutality of the tyrant.

I am also here with Marvin Zindler, of Houston, Texas. I appreciate Joe Agris, the doctor who helped put these hands on these men; Don North, the documentary producer who made a film of this brutality, which brought the plight of these gentlemen to the attention of Marvin and his foundation. These men had hands restored because of the generosity and love of an American citizen. And I am so proud to welcome them to the Oval Office. . . .

That's right: Bush was holding a ceremony involving several Iraqi men who had their severed hands replaced with high-tech prosthetics. In the course of doing so, he said he was honored to shake hands with one of the men — presumably (I haven't seen the video, but I have no reason to doubt it) while or right after in fact shaking hands with him. Quite possibly the reference to shaking hands was a deliberate way to stress the attempt to make these people as whole as possible. Even if it wasn't deliberate, it was perfectly accurate.

So Bush's statement is an error / humorous gaffe / telling of his supposed inarticulateness because . . .?

UPDATE: A reader writes:

Actually, . . . it was kind of cool. The news clip I saw from the White House showed the president taking hold of the one Iraqi man's new prosthetic hand and shaking it. Not just a statement, then, but a real action with meaning. From what limited contact I have had with folks who either have a prosthetic limb or use a wheelchair, it is the recognition of the aid (as opposed to the studied avoidance of contact or acknowledgement of the aid) that means the most. I suppose it is because the new limb (or other aid) is now as much a part of the person as those limbs they were born with, so other people's acknowledgement that the prosthetic is there, is recognition of the whole person.
Naturally, people with prostheses likely have a broad range of views on this subject. But this message seems to me to support the view that Bush's approach — an emphasis on the person indeed having a hand to shake — was at least an eminently legitimate way of dealing with this.

FURTHER UPDATE: Thanks to reader Stuart Sechrist, here's a photo of the handshake, on the USA Today site:

All Related Posts (on one page) | Some Related Posts:

  1. Context:
  2. Another Puzzling Bushism on Slate:
  3. Another Odd Bushism:...
  4. Bushism of the Day:
  5. Spinsanity criticizes Slate's Bushisms and Kerryisms.
  6. Latest Bushism:
Bushism of the Day:

In today's Slate:

"I believe that, as quickly as possible, young cows ought to be allowed go across our border." — Ottawa, Nov. 30, 2004

Now this one just puzzles me. Here's the relevant excerpt from the transcript. Bush was apparently responding to a question about the importation of beef from Canada to the U.S. (I can't quote the question, because it isn't included in the transcript, presumably because it's in French):

Look, the prime minister has expressed a great deal of frustration that the issue hadn't been resolved yet. And I can understand his level of frustration. There's a series of regulations that are required by U.S. law, and the latest step has been that the Agriculture Department sent over some proposed regulations to handle this issue to what's called the Office of Management and Budget. It's a part of my office.

I have sent word over that they need to expedite that request as quickly as possible.

I fully understand the cattle business. I understand the pressures placed upon Canadian ranchers. I believe that, as quickly as possible, young cows ought to be allowed to go across our border. I understand the integrated nature of the cattle business, and I hope we can get this issue solved as quickly as possible. . . .

What's "Bushist" about this? Is it that "young cows" sounds odd? Apparently it's a common industry term (see, e.g., "Management of Young Cows for Maximum Reproductive Performance," noted on a USDA site). Is it that it sounds stilted to talk about allowing the cows to go over the border, as if it's the cows' desire? But this is a pretty standard locution — speaking of goods going places, rather than people shipping goods places — and in context I doubt that it sounded at all odd.

Or is it the omission of the "to" before the "go across the border"? The Washington Post transcript quotes Bush as saying "to go across the border," as do the other sources I've checked. [UPDATE: Reader Russell Steinthal points out that Slate has since inserted the "to," though it was omitted when the item originally went up.]

And why does Slate, an online publication that has long tried hard to take advantage of its online format, persist in failing to providing links to sources that it quotes? Wouldn't it be good if readers could see for themselves how the quote looks in context?

[NOTE: I added the "Or is it" paragraph after this post was originally posted.]

More on Yesterday' s Bushism of the Day:

I e-mailed Jacob Weisberg to ask what he thought was Bushist about yesterday's Bushism of the Day, and he graciously responded:

The White House transcript didn't have "to." Hard to know what he actually said, but I'll switch to the Post version to make it more readable. In any case, that is not the joke. I define Bushisms as things Bush says that are funny for whatever reason, not merely mistakes.

Hmm -- that's not how I had understood the series. Here's the start of the Introduction from Weisberg's Bushisms book:

The question I am most frequently asked about the Bushisms series is, "Do you really think the President of the United States is dumb?"

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is yes and no.

Dipping into this volume may leave the impression that George W. Bush is a simple dimwit. . . . If you don't care to pursue the matter any further, that view will serve. . . .

In reality, however, there's more to it. The assemblage of a presidential term's worth of malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms, and truisms -- drawn together here from the best of Bushisms old and new -- tends to imply that Bush's lack of fluency in English is tantamount to an absence of intelligence. But as we all know from experience, the inarticulate can be shrewd, the fluent fatuous. In Bush's case, the symptoms indicate a specific malady -- some kind of language-skill deficit akin to dyslexia -- that does not indicate a lack of mental capacity per se. . . .

But perhaps the Bushisms column has a broader mandate than the Bushisms book, or both are meant to be a mix not just of "malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms, and truisms" -- which are either mistakes (the first four) or vacuousness, which one might think of as a substantive mistake -- but also just things that are "funny for whatever reason."

Still, isn't this line funny largely because it is taken out of context? Would it really be that funny if read with the surrounding lines, as I quote them above, and understanding that it was a response to a question about beef import policy?

And in any event, might it not be better for the Bushisms column to include links to the transcripts, so that readers can see for themselves what the context might be (especially if they assume that most Bushisms are indeed "malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms, and truisms" rather than just "funny for whatever reason")?

All Related Posts (on one page) | Some Related Posts:

  1. Context:
  2. Another Puzzling Bushism on Slate:
  3. Another Odd Bushism:...
  4. Yesterday's Bushism of the Day:
  5. More on Yesterday' s Bushism of the Day:
  6. Bushism of the Day:
  7. Spinsanity criticizes Slate's Bushisms and Kerryisms.
  8. Latest Bushism:
Yesterday's Bushism of the Day:
"I always jest to people, the Oval Office is the kind of place where people stand outside, they're getting ready to come in and tell me what for, and they walk in and get overwhelmed by the atmosphere. And they say 'man, you're looking pretty.'" —Washington, D.C., Nov. 4, 2004"
Now, the context, which Slate persists in refusing to link to:
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Learn and not learn about the Cabinet?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: . . .

This is a job that requires crisp decision-making, and therefore, in order for me to make decisions, I've got to have people who bring, you know, their point of view into the Oval Office and are willing to say it.

I always jest to people: The Oval Office is the kind of place where people stand outside, they're getting ready to come in and tell me what-for, and they walk in and get overwhelmed by the atmosphere and they say, Man, you're looking pretty.

Therefore, you need people to walk in on those days when you're not looking so good and saying, You're not looking so good, Mr. President. . . .

What exactly is there that's remotely mockable about this? I report, you decide.

Incidentally, people occasionally fault my criticisms of the Bushisms. "They're just a joke," they say. Well, they are attempts at humor — but they are attempts at humor that criticizes Bush. (See the Introduction to the Bushisms book, excerpted here.) If you're going to criticize someone, it seems to me that you should do it fairly and aptly. Many of the Bushisms strike me as unfair and inapt, which is why I comment on them.

Finally, someone suggested that this is petty nitpicking on my part, and that I should move on to more important things. I offer a deal: If Slate stops its petty nitpicking of Bush — and nitpicking which strikes me as often incorrect — I'll stop my petty nitpicking of Slate.

Bushism of the Day at Slate:

Here's today's item:

"We need to apply 21st-century information technology to the health care field. We need to have our medical records put on the I.T."—Collinsville, Ill., Jan. 5, 2005

Here's the link that Slate provides to the President's full speech, so readers can get some context:

Oh, wait, Slate, one of the leading online journals, doesn't actually provide links to the full speech, even when it's on the Web, and even when curious readers might want to know how the quote looks in context. But we at the Conspiracy deliver what Slate doesn't; here's the link.

In any case, what exactly is "Bushistic" about the quote? "I.T." stands for "information technology," in this case presumably computers, networking, and the like — a subset of one definition of "technology," which is "Electronic or digital products and systems considered as a group." I can't say that "We need to have our medical records put on the [information technology]" is the most eloquent phrase in the English language. Maybe it's something of a slip — "put on the technology" is not quite idiomatic, though it's clearly understandable, and probably technically correct given the definition I quoted. And in context, it seems to be an ordinary, if bland, part of an ordinary if bland political speech:

To improve health care in America, we need to expand the use of health savings accounts. (Applause.) It's a product that lets you save tax-free for routine medical care while keeping affordable coverage against major illness. Small businesses must be allowed to join together, to pool risk, so they can buy insurance for their employees at the same discounts that big businesses are able to do. (Applause.)

To address the cost of medical care, we need to apply 21st century information technology to the health care field. We need to have our medical records put on the IT. We need to make sure that we speed up the delivery and arrival of cheaper generic drugs to help control costs. We want to make sure our Medicare system still allows seniors to have choice in the system.

Look, I've got to admit: Some Bushisms (e.g., "misunderestimated") are funny and somewhat unusual malapropisms. But "We need to apply 21st-century information technology to the health care field. We need to have our medical records put on the I.T."? Is that funny? To the extent that it's misspeaking, is it particularly uncommon and noteworthy? (As I've mentioned before, I hate to read transcripts of my own presentations, because they often have grammatical and word choice lapses — and I think that's true for the overwhelming majority of all people, including the educated and intelligent.)

And, to get back on my hobbyhorse, when Slate is trying to make a big deal out of a quote, why not include a link back to the quote so that readers can see it and its context for themselves?

We Provide the Context, Because Slate Doesn't:

We also provide the links, because Slate — leading online journal that it is — doesn't.

Here's Slate's Bushism of the Day for today:

"I want to appreciate those of you who wear our nation's uniform for your sacrifice."—Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 14, 2005

I take it the supposed humor comes from the ambiguity of "sacrifice": Bush was obviously expressing his appreciation of soldiers, because of their sacrifice. (A bit clunky — "thank" would have been better — but "appreciate" is hardly risible here.) But it might also sound to some people like he's appreciating their wearing a uniform to their sacrifice, which brings up visions of "sacrifice" in the sense of "human sacrifice" and death. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me like the only quibble that Slate can have with Bush's line, unless they're trying to make something out of the substitution of "I want to appreciate" for "I want to thank."

OK, here's the context:

[W]e've got a lot on the agenda. Obviously, winning the war on terror is still on my mind. And I want to appreciate those of you who wear our nation's uniform for your sacrifice and for joining our great country's cause of freedom. (Applause.)

Even setting aside the applause, does this sentence really look that silly in context? Or silly at all?

If you think it does look silly, then you wouldn't fault Slate for omitting the context. But if I'm right that most people would find the quote to be much more sensible in context than out of context, then is the Slate excerpt really fair? Yes, it's humor, but it's a humorous dig that's meant to make a serious statement. The question is whether it makes the statement fairly or not.

UPDATE: Several people suggested that Slate is trying to make fun of the "I want to appreciate" -- Bush, the theory goes, is saying that he doesn't really appreciate the soldiers, but just wants to appreciate them. That strikes me as a pretty weak quibble. "Want to" is a pretty commonplace empty filler; "I want to thank" equals "I thank," "I want to suggest" equals "I suggest," "I want to say that . . ." equals "I say that . . ." which really equals nothing at all. (Naturally, sometimes "I want to" does mean "I want to"; it's generally clear from context whether or not it does.)

Like empty filler generally, it isn't elegant, but it hardly seems laughable. No-one says "Ha ha ha, he said 'I want to thank,' which means he isn't really thanking, but just wants to do it and for some reason can't." Likewise, I think, for "I want to appreciate" -- a much less common phrase, but clearly an adaptation of the more common "I want to thank."

All Related Posts (on one page) | Some Related Posts:

  1. Context:
  2. Another Puzzling Bushism on Slate:
  3. Another Odd Bushism:...
  4. Bushism of the Day:
  5. We Provide the Context, Because Slate Doesn't:
  6. Bushism of the Day at Slate:...
  7. Bushism of the Day:
  8. Spinsanity criticizes Slate's Bushisms and Kerryisms.
  9. Latest Bushism:
Bushism of the Day:

Slate's Bushism of the Day for today is:

"Listen, the other day I was asked about the National Intelligence Estimate, which is a National Intelligence Estimate." — Washington, D.C., Sep. 23, 2004

Ha ha ha. That President of ours, he's such a doofus. Why would he say "about the National Intelligence Estimate, which is a National Intelligence Estimate"? Hard to believe, but there it is. Or, wait a minute, maybe because it's hard to believe, we should double-check before believing it, no? That is, unless we're so wedded to the "Bush Talks Funny" meme that we've relaxed our normal skepticism and journalistic caution.

Fortunately, reader Jacob Kaufman's skepticism and caution hadn't relaxed, so he found the White House transcript (remember, Slate's Bushism of the Day column never includes pointers to the transcripts). That site happens to have the audio. And the audio, at a little after 30:54, shows that Bush said:

Listen, the other day I was asked about the NIE, which is a National Intelligence Estimate.

Yup, that's right. President Bush used the abbreviation, and then explained what the abbreviation meant. The official transcript erroneously spelled out the abbreviation, though it rendered it in all caps, which — together with the improbability of the President's just saying "the National Intelligence Estimate, which is the National Intelligence Estimate" — might have led a cautious journalist to check into it:

Listen, the other day I was asked about the NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE, which is a National Intelligence Estimate.

A cautious journalist might also have checked what other sources say. A quick LEXIS search for "Listen, the other day I was asked about the" revealed 10 references, of which 8 contained the term "NIE," and 2 contained "NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE" (again, in all caps). But apparently the author of the Bushisms column didn't do this check; if he had, then maybe he would have realized that he should try to find the audio, which would have settled the matter.

As I've said before, part of the problem with the Bushisms column is that they often fault the President for things that aren't much worth faulting. But the broader problem is that once a journalist gets into the mindset of "Let me catch Bush misspeaking," it's very easy to start seeing errors where no errors exist. Instead of the normal "Someone says Bush erred, so let's investigate this skeptically" view that journalists should have, the author falls into the habit of assuming that all claimed Bush misstatements are in fact misstatements. And the consequence is screw-ups like this. Shouldn't we expect better from the editor of a leading magazine?

UPDATE: The item is now gone from the Slate table of contents, and its text has been blanked out on the original page; it's to Slate's credit that they so promptly removed the error. I assume Slate will also post another item explicitly acknowledging the error, so that people who read and understandably believed the original item could learn that they'd been misinformed.

It seems to me that this should go both in Slate's Corrections column and as a separate Bushism of the Day item: I take it that many readers who read Bushisms don't regularly look at the Corrections, but will look at the next Bushisms entry. In any event, I take it that Slate will indeed publish an official correction.

Slate Corrections:

To its credit, Slate today published, in its Corrections e-column, the following:

A "Bushism of the Day" item posted on Feb, 10 reported that President Bush said on Sept. 23, 2004, "Listen, the other day I was asked about the National Intelligence Estimate, which is a National Intelligence Estimate." Though this is the version reported in several transcripts, an audiotape of the speech makes clear that Bush's more coherent actual words were, "Listen, the other day I was asked about the NIE, which is a National Intelligence Estimate."

It's to Slate's credit that it promptly published the correction. Yet I wonder: Given the way Slate is organized — and the same goes for some other online journals — wouldn't it be better to post a correction in the same e-column (which is to say under the rubric on the front screen) as the error appeared?

The front screen naturally doesn't indicate exactly what the corrections are. I suspect that many readers don't normally read the Corrections section. So as a result many readers who do habitually read the Bushisms column, and who read yesterday's column, will never learn that what they were told yesterday wasn't actually so.

Am I mistaken? I realize that newspaper tradition is to segregate corrections in a special corrections section. I'm not sure that's right even for print newspapers, but does it really make sense online? Or is it the case that lots of people do read the Corrections section, and that the best way to reach Bushism readers — again, to un-mislead them — is through an entry in Corrections, rather than a new entry in Bushisms?

Mysterious Bushism:

Slate's Bushism today is:

After all, Europe is America's closest ally.

What's at all funny, odd, or otherwise Bushism-worthy here? There are only two conceivable objections I can imagine here.

1. Bush is talking about "Europe" as an ally instead of particular European countries. Yet Europe, in the sense of the European Union, is indeed an entity of its own. And the European Union is often referred to as Europe.

But of course Bush couldn't have possibly meant Europe in the sense of European Union (or for that matter Europe as a cultural grouping of countries), because . . . . Because why exactly? Because Texans aren't up on modern transnational organizations? Well, let me give you the context, since of course Slate never gives you the context, or even a pointer to the context. (And who can blame it? After all, while Web sites like ours can provide links to the full transcripts, to assure people that the quotes are in context, old-fashioned paper-based media like Slate don't have that luxury. Oh, wait . . . .)

Here's the transcript containing the "Bushism" but also the following sentences:

After all, Europe is America's closest ally. I said yesterday, and I want to say it again: The European project is important to our country. We want it to succeed. And in order for Europe to be a strong, viable partner, Germany must be strong and viable, as well. And in order for us to have good relations with Europe, we must have good relations with Germany. And that is why this trip is an important trip for my country and for me.

And so I want to thank you very much for the chance to be here, a chance to reconfirm the importance of the transatlantic alliance, and a chance to talk about important issues. Gerhard went over the issues; I will go over them briefly, as well. . . .

No Europhile — or for that matter non-Europhile urban articulate sophisticate — could have said it better: Alliance with Europe, the European project, good relations with Europe, transatlantic alliance.

2. The one possible other objection is that our relations with Europe aren't so hot in some respects now. Yet surely saying that Europe is our closest ally is just the time-honored and quite reasonable diplomatic trope of talking about aspirations of friendship as reality. That's only a "Bushism" if "Bushism" means "A statement characterized by excessive diplomacy."

So what's up here? How could the editor of a major publication, a publication that aspires to being seen as witty but thoughtful and credible, mock someone for a perfectly normal statement like this — and mock him with no further explanation and commentary, as if the statement were so obviously silly that no explanation was required?

UPDATE: A reader writes:

Bushism of the Day may be signalling a sea-change in the Left from regarding Bush as stupid stupid stupid to ironic.

Bush's stating that Europe is our closest ally isn't evidence of his inarticulate nature, but perhaps the statement has an ironic value inasmuch as Bush's policies are cause for the recent rift, at least from BOTD's point of view.

Huh -- I hadn't even thought of that, partly because it's so unrelated to what Bushisms have supposedly been about, and what Jacob Weisberg has said they're about, in this Bush-loathing introduction to one of his Bushisms books. So I remain puzzled: What's so "Bushism" about President Bush's clear, grammatically and semantically unobjectionable, and diplomatic statement? Though, hey, if Weisberg wants "Bushism" to come to mean "a clear, grammatically and semantically unbobjectionable, and diplomatic statement," that's fine by me.

Today's Bushism:

Today's Bushism at Slate is:

"The United States and the U.S. stand together in support of the Iraqi people and the new Iraqi government, which will soon come into action." — Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 22, 2005

Except that the transcript (which Slate of course doesn't link to) seems to reveal the broader context to be:

PRESIDENT JUNCKER: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. . . .

As regards Iraq, we applauded the courage of the Iraqi people and the results of recent Iraqi elections, as far as the out-turn was concerned. We are pursuing our common engagement in Iraq. The United States and the U.S. [sic] stand together in support of the Iraqi people and the new Iraqi government, which will soon come into action. To that end, should the new Iraqi government request it, the United States and European Union are prepared to co-host an international conference to provide a forum to encourage and coordinate international support for Iraq. . . .

I leave this to the President of the U.S.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. Prime Minister, thanks. . . .

Yup, it seems like today's Bushism wasn't said by President Bush, but rather by European Council President Jean-Claude Juncker (who is also the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, hence the honorific that President Bush gave him) — or, I suspect, by the translator. I checked all the transcripts I could find on LEXIS, and none attributed this to Bush; all attributed it to Juncker, except one that attributed to an otherwise unidentified "Scheffer," likely an error.

Am I missing something here? Or is this yet another flub, much like the one on Feb. 10? That one was at least based on an erroneous transcript (though the error could have been caught had someone did a quick search to see what other transcripts said, or listened to the audio file). This one seems to be based on an erroneous reading of the transcript.

Many thanks to two readers, one anonymous and the other Kennan Shelton, who alerted me to this.

UPDATE: Slate has put up a correction at the top of today's Bushism, acknowledging that the statement was made by Juncker. This seemingly happened just a few minutes ago (roughly 3 pm Pacific).

FURTHER UPDATE: Stuart Buck coins the word "Slatenfreude."

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: It turns out that OpinionJournal's Best of the Web had busted Bushisms for exactly the same error a couple of years ago:

[Today's "Bushism of the day"]:
"I would like to express my deep condolences for the loss of the Senate."--Commenting on Sen. Paul Wellstone's death, Crawford, Texas, Oct. 25, 2002

Now, let's go to the transcript, which is of a joint appearance with Bush and China's President Jiang Zemin. It begins with Bush speaking:

Thank you for coming, President Jiang.

PRESIDENT JIANG: Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. I just learned that one plane crashed. I would like to express my deep condolences for the loss of the Senate. And also I would like to express my condolences to the bereaved family.

Slate's correction is here.

Slatism of the Day.--

You would think that George W. Bush would make enough verbal gaffes that a journalist wouldn't have to try to trick his readers into thinking that Bush is more inarticulate than he is. But Slate, under the direction of Jacob Weisberg, must come up with a Bushism of the Day to feed their feature and the cash cow of calendars and other merchandise catering to Bush-loathers. Eugene has been insightfully covering these over the last year or so.

Accordingly, on days when Bush has made no real mistakes, Slate must squeeze quotations out of context or pretend that informal, off-the-cuff speech should look on the page like edited prose. Real conversation is a series of starts and stops, with doubling back to respond to the words and facial expressions of the hearers.

First, quotations out-of-context. Consider this example of a sensible statement that seems silly out of context:

"I'm here skiing the New Hampshire primary." (Jan. 23, 2004)

Second, inarticulateness. Consider this example of inarticulateness:

"Well this a, of course, when we were up there, we were talking skiing a little bit, and we were were talking talking politics." (Jan. 23, 2004)

Certainly, "we were were talking talking politics" is inarticulate, but it is the ordinary sort of speaking error that even those far more articulate than Bush would make.

I can prove my last assertion because these are not "Bushisms," but rather "Slatisms." I searched for an online recording of Jacob Weisberg and found both of these on the second one I listened to--Jacob Weisberg interviewing a Kerry family member on NPR (Jan. 23, 2004). And this was an interview in which Weisberg should have had an opportunity to prepare his questions.

I should say that Weisberg is extremely fluent and articulate in his interviewing style, well beyond most speakers and well beyond George W. Bush. Yet this only brings home how unfair and what poor journalism Slate's feature frequently is. If I had listened to more than two of Weisberg's NPR commentaries or interviews, I would probably have been able to come up with many more examples--especially if I were to use the misleading standards that Slate uses in choosing examples.

Personally, I usually try for exteme naturalness in presentation, with a style designed to convey intellectual excitement about otherwise dry data, rather than designed to be read in a transcript. At scholarly meetings, I find the attempt at perfect prose (typical of philosophers sticking closely to their prepared remarks) usually boring and lacking in the spontaneity necessary to give the impression that you really believe what you are saying. That is why lawyers are usually trained not to use fully prepared remarks, but instead to use an outline. Indeed, the advice is that, if you write out the text of your remarks, you should outline that full text, and then tear up the full text.

Another Slatism; Well, Not Quite.--

In my last post, I pointed out that, if one ignored the real difficulties of the spoken word, then almost anyone could be caught in lots of infelicities or passages that would look odd out of context, passages that were as bad as most "Bushisms." I offered two "Slatisms" by Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (who is nonetheless remarkably fluent and careful in his speech), including this infelicity:

"Well this a, of course, when we were up there, we were talking skiing a little bit, and we were were talking talking politics." (NPR, Jan. 23, 2004)

I was just surfing and found that Weisberg had co-written the memoirs of Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The first Rubin transcript I found online had this quotation on the front page (the interview was with ABC):

"For the following three and a half years ago we have had horrendous fiscal policy over the last three and a half years."

I did not find a tape, so I am not sure if the quotation is correct (it may well not be). If Bush had said this (or even if he had not, but there was a false transcript floating around), it probably would have been a Bushism.

But Rubin's meaning is clear and it's spoken English, just like most of Bush's verbal gaffes.

Again, I am not saying that Rubin isn't more fluent than most (I'll bet he is)--and from what little I know, he was a superb Treasury Secretary. Normally, you would have to be a Slate editor to treat an infelicity like Rubin's (or most of Bush's) as even worth comment, let alone ridicule.

Of course, technically this is not a Slatism, because it was "committed" by Weisberg's co-author, but I think it makes my point that, if almost anyone were miked as often as George W. Bush is, there would be hundreds of awkward and inarticulate statements to ridicule--if one were inclined to be as churlish and unfair as the editors of Slate.

I suspect that the reason that Slate continues the series is that collections of these Bushisms are the sorts of books that people pick up as they are checking out at bookstore cash registers.

UPDATE: In checking trackbacks to my earlier post, I see that Isaac Schrodinger points out that he used the word "Slatism" in a post on Friday, apparently referring to quotes misattributed to Bush, rather than my slightly different meaning of awkward or odd sentences spoken by Slate editors. I actually wrote most of this morning's post (including the term "Slatism") on February 10 (after another of Eugene's criticisms of Bushisms), but decided to wait to post until the next one flagged by Eugene.

Further, "Slatism" is a fairly obvious coinage: I see in searching the web that Bendomenech on Jan. 7, 2003 used "Slatism" to refer to an awkward sentence published at Slate.com. I am nonetheless happy to point out that Schrodinger posted his use of "Slatism" several days before I actually posted my use of the term. I didn't see either of Schrodinger's posts until a few minutes ago; I was busy at Harvard on the weekend.

Another Mystery Bushism:

I'm very pleased that the Bushisms column has finally started linking to the original source for the alleged Bushism, so that readers can determine for themselves whether the quote is accurate and in context. Still, I can't figure out what the Bushisms author thinks is the problem with today's quote:

"In this job you've got a lot on your plate on a regular basis; you don't have much time to sit around and wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, 'How do you think my standing will be?'" — Washington, D.C., March 16, 2005

Is the supposed inarticulateness the mild mismatch between "sit around" and "wander," because wandering requires standing, not sitting? I take it that Bush was using "sit around" as partly figurative — when you're asked what you did Sunday, and you say "I sat around the house," your behavior need not have been limited to physical sitting — and partly as one activity in a set of activities: You can spend part of your time sitting around brooding and part wandering lonely, talking to portraits. Is it that he should have said "What do you think my standing will be?" instead of "How?"

Just a bit more context: Bush was asked a question about whether he felt vindicated by recent events; he gave a serious answer, but understandably felt that it would be better if leavened with some impromptu humor. So he told a little off-the-cuff joke, which the audience seemed to like (you can hear laughter, and I doubt that they were laughing at the sit around vs. wander problem on the how vs. what). Articulate, educated, intelligent readers of mine: Are all your extemporaneous jokes marvels of perfect word choice? Friends of Slate writers: Are all their extemporaneous jokes immaculately crafted?

Just what in Bush's quote is deserving of mockery?

UPDATE: Some readers suggested that Bush was actually saying "sit around and wonder" rather than "sit around and wander"; it's possible, but I think he was indeed talking about wandering around the oval office talking to the portraits that are presumably hanging on the wall -- it makes more sense that you'd wander around to talk to them. Other readers suggested that Bush was alluding to Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud"; that's also possible. But even if neither theory is correct, my point still stands: There's nothing worth mocking in what Bush was saying.

Another Odd Bushism:

I'm pleased to mention again that Slate has indeed finally started providing links to original sources — often streaming video and audio, which is especially useful — when it picks on President Bush's alleged Bushisms. That happened, I think, a month or two ago, and it continues to be the case.

But the substance of the Bushisms continues to appear often quibbling and sometimes baffling. Here's today's:

"We expect the states to show us whether or not we're achieving simple objectives — like literacy, literacy in math, the ability to read and write." — on federal education requirements, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

What exactly is the problem here? If the joke is that "literacy in math" is wrong, then the error is in the joke, not Bush's statement; "literacy" is defined to include "The condition or quality of being knowledgeable in a particular subject or field." I don't find "literacy in math" to be the most elegant usage, but I don't think it's particularly risible, either. A search for "math literacy" suggests that many others agree. My guess is that the President started saying literacy, then realized he wanted to also mention math, so he used the not uncommon concept of "literacy in math" to make clear that he wasn't just focusing on purely reading-and-writing literacy.

Or maybe the problem is that Bush omitted an "and." Bush's statement can just as plausibly be transcribed (given the timing of the pauses, probably more plausibly transcribed) as:

We expect the states to show us whether or not we're achieving simple objectives, like literacy — literacy in math, the ability to read and write.

Maybe there should have been an "and" between "literacy in math" and "the ability to read and write."

But even perfectly articulate people often speak more choppily than they'd write; and sometimes even in writing, people omit the conjunction in a list for rhetorical effect (though that usually happens in a list of three or more).

And more broadly, very few people can be relied on being constantly elegant, or even constantly grammatically correct, in extended extemporaneous commentary. I like to think that I'm a pretty articulate user of English, but I've shuddered when reading transcripts of what I say. I wager the same is true for many other speakers. What's funny, insightful, or otherwise valuable about picking on Bush for something like this?

UPDATE: A reader suggests: "I suspect that the 'joke' is that Bush listed 3 things: literacy, literacy in math, and literacy, i.e. that he didn't 'realize' that literacy means 'the ability to read and write' and so he listed it twice not realizing that he was, and thus the joke is that he doesn't even know what the word 'literacy' means when calling for others to be taught it." But if that's a joke, that flows from what is likely a mistranscription of Bush's statement. Bush has a short pause before "like literacy," and a long pause after it. The better transcription is thus:

We expect the states to show us whether or not we're achieving simple objectives, like literacy — literacy in math, the ability to read and write.

Even if I'm wrong that this is the better transcription, it's at least as good a transcription. And this transcription suggests that Bush was either saying "literacy" and then listing two aspects of literacy, or (at worst) saying a word, losing his train of thought for a moment, and resuming the statement by repeating the word, something that speakers very often do.

Another Puzzling Bushism on Slate:

 

"My thoughts are, we're going to get somebody who knows what they're talking about when it comes to rebuilding cities." -- On how the rebuilding of New Orleans might commence, Biloxi, Miss., Sept. 2, 2005

What's odd, funny, mangled, or at all Bushism-worthy about this quote? Bush was asked how New Orleans should be rebuilt in the long term. That's a difficult and technical question, and one that's not easy to answer right now, especially when one is the President rather than a professional urban planner. So the President gave a perfectly sensible answer, and said that he'll figure out what the experts say. Here's the context (to Slate's credit, they now provide a link to the video, but here I quote the official transcript):

Q Mr. President, I realize the first priority is, obviously, saving lives. But let me ask you about long-term planning in New Orleans. There are some who are starting to say that since we're going to be spending billions in tax dollars to rebuild that great city, that we might want to think about building it in such a way where it's not below sea level again, whether it's somehow moved around or relocated or moved up. What are your thoughts on that?

THE PRESIDENT: My thoughts are, we're going to get somebody who knows what they're talking about when it comes to rebuilding cities. I'm going to delegate. I'm going to call upon the best experts, starting with the people of New Orleans, and get opinions as we work with the local folks. We're going to help people rebuild, Stretch. That's what we're going to do. And we're going to listen to people who know what they're doing. . . .

Why is this worth mockery or condemnation (presumably the main theme of Bushisms, as the column's compiler himself seems to suggest)?

All Related Posts (on one page) | Some Related Posts:

  1. Context:
  2. Another Puzzling Bushism on Slate:
  3. Another Odd Bushism:...
  4. Bushism of the Day:
  5. Spinsanity criticizes Slate's Bushisms and Kerryisms.
  6. Latest Bushism:
Context:

A while back, Slate's Bushism of the Day started providing links so that readers could see the context surround the quote. Unfortunately, they didn't do it with today's item:

"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law." -- Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2005

I'm pleased, though, to step in and fill the gap:

America has always been a compassionate nation that values the newcomer and takes great pride in our immigrant heritage; yet we're also a nation built on the rule of law, and those who enter the country illegally violate the law. The American people should not have to choose between a welcoming society and a lawful society. We can have both at the same time. And to keep the promise of America, we will enforce the laws of our country.

Does Bush's statement seem quite so silly / funny / whatever in context as it did out of context? Sure, there's a good deal of redundancy here, but such redundancy is often rhetorically valuable. And that sometimes includes stating the obvious, especially when it's an obvious point that one's adversaries often try to deemphasize. Might it have been helpful to provide the quote in context? Or at least to have linked to the context, for the benefit of readers who want to look further?