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

Dennis Baron debaron at
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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