Noah the Lexicographer finds Republican candidates' words lack . . . definition

Dennis Baron debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU
Thu Oct 30 04:36:19 UTC 2008

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Noah the Lexicographer finds Republican candidates' words lack . . .

The Chicago Tribune is one of several news outlets running stories on
the words that candidates have been using during the current
presidential campaign, which is scheduled to end on election day next
Tuesday, unless, of course, there's another problem with the ballots
in Florida.

It turns out that this year's political vocabulary isn't much to write
home about. We've been treated to arugula, we've palled around with
terrorists surnamed Sixpack, and we're promising to drill, baby, drill
our way out of our dependence on foreign oil (at the same time
speeding the melting of the polar ice cap while the economy tanks).
None of these are words that would put lipstick on bitterhockey moms
who cling to their guns and their religion.

In contrast to this lexical mash-up, past presidential races have
given us memorable new deals andgreat societies; ringing battle cries
like "Give 'em hell, Harry," "I like Ike," and "It's the economy
stupid"; and greeting-card verse like "It's morning again in America"
and "Building a bridge to the 21st century."

It's true that not all past campaign rhetoric scored high on the
Richter scale. Walter Mondale asked,"Where's the beef?" but lost
anyway. Herbert Hoover called for "A chicken in every pot," and wound
up with the Depression. Speaking of pot, Bill Clinton, who preferred
his own definitions to those of Noah Webster, approved of the stuff
but didn't inhale. George W. Bush promised "No Child Left Behind,"
then left no mission accomplished. And Conservative Barry Goldwater's
1964 slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right," was transmuted by
the "All the way with LBJ" crowd into, "In his heart, he knows the
world is flat."

But 2008 has brought its own version of flat-earth rhetoric: the
surreal vision of candidate Sarah Palin outfitted by Neiman Marcus
celebrating Carhartts and steel-toed boots and real America, while her
running mate John McCain told "My friends" about "my good friend, Joe
the plumber," who is not a real plumber, isn't really named Joe, and
hadn't really met McCain.

read the rest of this post on the Web of Language

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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