Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fifty-nine days

Fifty-nine days, that is, until Barack Obama is sworn in as President of the United States and the nightmare of the last eight years finally comes to an end. Which feels like an awfully long time when you consider how much damage the Bush Administration can still inflict with its unique blend of abject incompetence and ideological arrogance. While Bush himself can be seen ineffectually flailing around with foreign leaders obviously relieved not to have to pretend to listen to him any more, I'm more concerned with what his VP is going to try and accomplish.

That being said, I would like to pay tribute at various points over the next fifty-nine days to the outgoing president by recalling some of his memorable locutions. While I certainly wouldn't want to compare our pain to that of soldiers fighting a fraudulent war or the victims of Hurricane Katrina, those of us whose principal business is the English language have found this president particularly galling for the violence he has visited on sentences (though honestly -- and I never thought I would ever say this -- Bush's use of language is pristine when compared to the labyrinths of Sarah Palin's speech).

On the other hand, we teachers of English now have a great contemporary Exhibit A when we come to define the term "malapropism" to our students. It is a term first put into common use by the character Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1775 play The Rivals, who misuses words to comic effect -- such as saying "He is the very pineapple of politeness," where she means "pinnacle." My personal favourite example predates Sheridan in Much Ado About Nothing, where the constable Dogberry announces to the Duke that "We have comprehended two auspicious characters."

Had Mr. Bush been a little more up on his literary genres, he'd have known that the accomplished malapropist is always a minor character used to comic effect, and is never supposed to be either the protagonist or antagonist. Perhaps the President-Elect should give him a copy of The Rivals and Much Ado as a get-your-ass-out-of-my-White-House parting gift.

Those who follow this blog regularly will possibly have noticed that the tagline under my title changes with every post, and is always a random (hopefully funny) quotation from somewhere. Well, in honour of the outgoing Malapropist-in-chief, I will have as my tagline a Bushism for every entry I post between now and January 20th. It is quite seriously the very least I can do for him.

In the meantime, here are ten of my favourites. Please feel free to contribute your own in my comments section.

"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."

"I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."

"I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft."

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."

"You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that."

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."

"We ought to make the pie higher."

"Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?"

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

(OK ... so maybe most of these aren't malapropisms per se).


Adam Riggio said...

I've actually been using some of these phrases in my own everyday speech. I find they're very cromulent for getting certain points across, especially "food on their families" and "won't get fooled again."

Really, I think the fool-me-twice line is a considerable improvement on the original saying. That was one of the best Who songs ever.

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