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What is the President's English?

The President's English refers to the communication style and language proficiency of a sitting U.S. President. It's a blend of political rhetoric, clarity, and persuasion, tailored to resonate with the public and convey policy. How does this unique linguistic approach impact national discourse and international relations? Join us as we examine the power of presidential eloquence.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Some people use the term “the President's English” derisively, to refer to the peculiar manner of speaking exhibited by former American President George Walker Bush. Many examples of the President's English could be heard at speeches, news conferences, and various other events during his period of office. The term “Bushisms” is also used to describe these lingual slips, which range from the amusing to the horrifying. Some Americans are embarrassed by the President's English, feeling that it reflects poorly on the nation as a whole.

Public speaking is difficult, and presidents are not exempted from gaffes, even when they have speechwriters to assist them. Numerous presidents throughout American history have made some notable slips of the tongue while in public office, but Bush made quite a number of these slips, leading to widespread mockery around the world. Some people suggest that his use of the English language suggested a profound discomfort with English, especially the formal form used by elected officials in Washington, implying that Bush was not intelligent. Others have more charitably suggested that slips of the tongue can happen to anyone, even a president.

Numerous presidents throughout American history have made some notable slips of the tongue.
Numerous presidents throughout American history have made some notable slips of the tongue.

The President's English is marked by an inability to grasp basic grammatical concepts, such as subject/verb agreement. Many Bushisms take the form of spoonerisms, in which the letters in a word are transposed by accident, while others are simply malapropisms, words used where they do not belong. On occasion, the President's English has resulted in the coinage of an entirely new word, such as “misunderestimated,” a Bushism which flabbergasted observers in Arkansas in 2000. In other instances, the President has appeared to ramble or become confused while speaking.

Many Bushisms simply sound like scrambled off the cuff remarks which were made in a hurry. Others are simply perplexing, and totally unfathomable, while some examples of the President's English suggest that the President's brain may have been working faster than his mouth, as is the case when he mangles folk wisdom and popular sayings, like he did in 2002 when he said “fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again.”

Some instances of the President's English have become quite famous, and there are a number of collections of famous phrases uttered by the 43rd President of the United States. The explanation behind the famous battle between Bush and the English language may be rooted in his attempt to cover up a regional dialect, as part of a desire to appear more professional and educated. Whatever the reason for it, the President's English has become world famous, thanks to truly awe-inspiring statements like “Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?”

Some publications have taken mercy on President Bush, correcting his statements before reprinting them, while others choose to leave the President's English intact, both with and without comment. Most damning of all, perhaps, some papers merrily insert the Latin word sic, indicating that although the statement looks like a misprint, it is simply being reported as it was said.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon30272

A president should not be judged by words alone, but by actions. His utterances, although some times embarrassing, show that after all, he is only human.

anon30226

I didn't like a good many things he did: Favoring illegal immigrants, prescription drug benefit, not vetoing some bad legislation. He was not fluent, as was Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, but I never got the impression that he did anything that he didn't think was for the benefit of the U.S. and I really never thought that he lied. I thought that he was mistaken in some of his conclusions, but lying and being mistaken are two different things. Being wrong is bad, but lying is much, much worse.

His verbal slips made him sound and read bad. It will be interesting to see the judgment of history about him. Since I am 87, I may not be around to see the later opinions.

Foofie

Who cares if there is "widespread" mockery of anyone in this country. That mockery has not stopped many people from wanting to come to the U.S. to live. Let us focus on the important points.

The important point may be that we do not have a monarchy that acts silly, in the opinion of some, during pompous ceremonies that harken back to an earlier era.

Presidents come and go, democratically elected, while the nation continues its forward progress. That is what is important.

anon30190

This are a good article!

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    • Numerous presidents throughout American history have made some notable slips of the tongue.
      By: xy
      Numerous presidents throughout American history have made some notable slips of the tongue.