ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Thu May 20 14:39:26 UTC 2010

The dfference between saying "when I was in Viet Nam" and "When I taught" at Harvard" is so great that the comparison is useless. There was no "Harvard Era" in American History.

A more apt comparison would be "when I taught at the University of Tennessee" (which JL may have done) and "when I was a professor at U of T" (which JL may well technically not have been). It is not hard to imagine someone saying the latter several times over the course of several years, though some might find it misleading and even duplicitous if isolated from context and reported en masse.

JL seems to think that all politicans' speeches are carefully crafted and (apparently) memorized and read to audiences word for word This is just not true. Mr. Blumenthal's putatively offending comments appear to have been presented off the cuff in extemporaneous contexts.

Reading the most despicable motives into a politician's every word is a favorite "gotcha" trick of political and ideological opponents of every stripe, but linguists should know better.
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-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
Date:         Thu, 20 May 2010 09:33:00
Subject:      [ADS-L] Vietnam

AFAIK, most members of the armed forces during the Vietnam War who were not
actually in Southeast Asia (or on Guam in the case of B-52 crews) were
either eager to be sent or else thanking their lucky stars it wasn't
happening.  Either way, the fact that one *wasn't* in Vietnam was a salient

For a politician who is only a Vietnam era veteran to say, in a campaign
speech, as a simple, unnoticed slip of the tongue, "when I served in
Vietnam" seems to me about as likely as my saying, "when I taught at
Harvard."  And then not noticing or caring that I said it.

My skepticism only grows when I read the reports, accurate or not, that Mr.
Blumenthal had received a number of draft deferments before enlisting in the
Reserves (the units universally perceived as least likely to be sent to

Ron seems to assume that political addresses by professional politicians
just naturally follow the dynamics of unrehearsed, even inattentive,
discourse. I believe that assumption is unwarranted. I expect I'd have to be
semicomatose before I'd say, "when I taught at Harvard" and not notice it.

The record shows that Mr. Blumenthal has never tried to "palm himself off as
a war hero."  Quite the contrary. On occasion, however, he seems to have
been ready to allow people to draw that erroneous conclusion. How sleazy or
decisive that may be is a matter for individual judgment.


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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