Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Weird World of Bushspeak


Although it should be better known, the name Johnson O'Connor isn't a household word. O'Connor, "the father of aptitude testing," made a monumental discovery in the 1930s. His Human Engineering Laboratory at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., tested hundreds of thousands of individuals. The results showed that a powerful vocabulary is directly linked to success in the worlds of business, academia or politics.

One interesting sidelight from O'Connor's findings was that success came equally to the self-taught and to the formally schooled. In short, it is one's vocabulary that is important, not how it was acquired. O'Connor concluded that "words are the tools of thought." Statistically, the larger the vocabulary of an individual, the higher that person's scores will be on tests (SAT, GRE, ACT, IQ, etc.) and the higher will be that person's income and stature in society.

George W. Bush attended prestigious Phillips Academy, at Andover, Mass., Yale University and the Harvard School of Business, and later became Governor of Texas and was twice elected President of the United States. The latter represents a pinnacle of success few have achieved. Yet, his widely recorded vocabulary failings would not have predicted this.

Johnson O'Connor died in 1973 at the age of 72. Had he lived, it is interesting to speculate what he would have made of George W. Bush's assaults on the English language, his mindless mangling of vocabulary, flagrant abuse of grammar and syntax, and sometimes hilarious malapropisms during the six years he has been in office, some of which are recorded here:

"One has a stronger hand when there's more people playing your same cards." Said about holding six-party talks with North Korea, Washington, D.C., Oct. 11, 2006.

"If the Iranians were to have a nuclear weapon, they could proliferate." Washington, March 21, 2006.

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table." Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 22, 2005.

"Secondly, the tactics of our--as you know, we don't have relationships with Iran. I mean, that's--ever since the late 70s, we have no contacts with them, and we've totally sanctioned them. In other words, there's no sanctions--you can't--we're out of sanctions." Annandale, Va., Aug. 9, 2004.

"And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is, I read it, and our guest read it." Speaking together with Prime Minister Tony Blair about the Baker-Hamilton Report, Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2006.

"Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to families who die." Speaking with reporters on facing the challenges of war, Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2006.

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." Interview with CBS News, Washington D.C., Sept. 6, 2006.

"I strongly believe what we're doing is the right thing. If I didn't believe it--I'm going to repeat what I said before--I'd pull the troops out, nor if I believed we could win, I would pull the troops out." Charlotte, N.C., April 6, 2006.

"No question that the enemy has tried to spread sectarian violence. They use violence as a tool to do that." Washington, March 22, 2006.

"After the bombing, most Iraqis saw what the perpetuators of this attack were trying to do." Washington, March 13, 2006, referring to the February bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra.

"And I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company." In defense of a plan to allow a company from the United Arab Emirates to manage ports in the United States, said aboard Air Force One, Feb. 21, 2006.

"He was a state sponsor of terror. In other words, the government had declared, 'You are a state sponsor of terror.'" Said about Saddam Hussein, Manhattan, Kans., Jan. 23, 2006.

"If you found somebody that had information about an attack on America, you'd want to know as best as we can to find out what the facts are." Philadelphia, Dec. 12, 2005.

"I think we are welcomed. But it was not a peaceful welcome." Speaking about Iraqi attitudes toward American occupying forces, Philadelphia, Dec. 12, 2005.

“Bin Laden says his own role is to tell Muslims quote, ‘what is good for them and what is not.’” Washington, Oct. 6, 2005,

"You see, not only did the attackers accelerate a recession, the attacks reminded us that we are at war." Washington, June 8, 2005.

"Well, we made the decision to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home. And when you engage the terrorists abroad, it causes activity and action. Washington, April 28, 2005.

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way. Washington, April 28, 2005.

"But Iraq has--have got people there that are willing to kill, and they're hard-nosed killers. And we will work with Iraqis to secure their future." Washington, April 28, 2005.

"I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein." Washington, May 25, 2004.

"It's a time of sorrow and sadness when you lose a loss of life." Washington, Dec. 21, 2004.

"Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat." Washington, Sept. 17, 2004.

"That's why I went to the Congress last September and proposed fundamental--supplemental funding, which is money for armor and body parts and ammunition and fuel." Erie, Pa., Sept. 4, 2004.

"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." Washington, Aug. 5, 2004.

"I want to remind you all that in order to fight and win the war, it requires an expenditure of money that is commiserate with keeping a promise to our troops to make sure that they're well paid, well-trained, well-equipped." Washington, Dec. 15, 2003.

"The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the--the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice." Washington, Oct. 27, 2003.

"See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction." Milwaukee, Wis., Oct. 3, 2003.

"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein and his willingness to terrorize himself." Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan 29, 2003.

"When Iraq is liberated, you [Saddam Hussein] will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal." Washington, Jan. 22, 2003.

"I was proud the other day when both Republicans and Democrats stood with me in the Rose Garden to announce their support for a clear statement of purpose: you disarm, or we will." Washington, Oct. 5, 2002.

"You're one of the outstanding leaders in a very important part of the world. I want to thank you for strategizing our discussions." Meeting with the prime minister of Malaysia, New York, Sept. 18, 2006.

"One thing is clear, is relations between America and Russia are good, and they're important that they be good." Visiting Strelna, Russia, July 15, 2006.

"I've reminded the prime minister--the American people, Mr. Prime Minister, over the past months that it was not always a given that the United States and America would have a close relationship." Speaking about Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister of Japan, Washington, June 29, 2006.

"We shouldn't fear a world that is more interacted." Washington, June 27, 2006.

"The point now is how do we work together to achieve important goals. And one such goal is a democracy in Germany." Washington, May 5, 2006.

"I can look you in the eye and tell you I feel I've tried to solve the problem diplomatically to the max, and would have committed troops both in Afghanistan and Iraq knowing what I know today." Irvine, Calif., April 24, 2006.

"I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep on the soil of a friend." Commenting on the possibility of a visit by him to Denmark, Washington, June 29, 2005.

"I was going to say that he's 'a piece of work,' but that might not translate well. Is it all right if I call you 'a piece of work'?" Said to the prime minister of Luxembourg, Washington, June 20, 2005.

"As a matter of fact, I know relations between our government is good." On the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea, Washington, Nov. 8, 2003.

"I recently met with the finance minister of the Palestinian Authority, was very impressed by his grasp of finances." Washington, May 29, 2003.

"I've got good relations with President Mubarak and Crown Prince Abdullah and the King of Jordan--Gulf Coast countries." Washington, May 29, 2003.

"You saw the president [Russian President Vladimir Putin] yesterday. I thought he was very forward-leaning, as they say in diplomatic nuanced circles." Rome, Italy, July 23, 2001.

"We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease." Gothenburg, Sweden, June 14, 2001.

"Anyway, I'm so thankful, and so gracious--I'm gracious that my brother Jeb is concerned about the hemisphere as well." Miami, June 4, 2001.

"Ann and I will carry out this equivocal message to the world: 'Markets must be open.'" At swearing in of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Washington, March 2, 2001.

"Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of--is nine other Presidents used it. This was given to us by Queen Victoria in the 1870s, I think it was. President Roosevelt put the door in so people would not know he was in a wheelchair. John Kennedy put his head out the door." / "That's called, 'A Charge To Keep,' based upon a religious hymn. The hymn talks about serving God. The president's job is never to promote a religion." / "That's George Washington, the first president, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three--three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting?" Said while showing German newspaper reporter Kai Diekmann the Oval Office, Washington, May 5, 2006.

"In this job you've got a lot on your plate on a regular basis. You don't have much time to sit around and wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, 'How do you think my standing will be?'" Washington, March 16, 2005.

"See, one of the interesting things in the Oval Office--I love to bring people into the Oval Office--right around the corner from here--and say, 'This is where I office. but I want you to know the office is always bigger than the person." Washington, Jan. 29, 2004.

"I think it's really important for this great state of baseball to reach out to people of all walks of life to make sure that the sport is inclusive. The best way to do it is to convince little kids how to--the beauty of playing baseball." Washington, Feb. 13, 2006.

"Let me be clear about this: Steroids ought to be banned from baseball." Washington, Oct. 4, 2005.

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005.

"We've got people working all their life at hard work, contributing by payroll taxes into a Social Security system." Washington, May 13, 2005.

"I think younger workers--first of all, younger workers have been promised benefits the government--promises that have been promised, benefits that we can't keep. That's just the way it is." Washington, May 4, 2005.

"It means your own money would grow better than that which the government can make it grow. And that's very important." Falls Church, Va., April 29, 2005.

"If they predecease or die early, there's an asset base to be able to pass on to a loved one." Cedar Rapids, Iowa, March 30, 2005.

"In terms of timetables, as quickly as possible--whatever that means." Washington, March 16, 2005.

"If you're a young person, you ought to be asking members of Congress and the United States Senate and the President what you intend to do about it. If you see a train wreck coming, you ought to be saying, 'What are you going to do about it, Mr. Congressman or Madam Congressman?'" Detroit, Feb. 8, 2005.

"Because the--all of which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate [sic], for example, is on the table. Whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those--changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be--or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled." Tampa, Fla., Feb. 4, 2005.

"Look, there's a series of things that cause the--like for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate--the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if it were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those--if that growth is affected, it will help on the red." Tampa, Fla., Feb. 4, 2005.

"We're spending money on clean coal technology. Do you realize we've got 250 million years of coal?" [The number is closer to 250 years.] Washington, June 8, 2005.

"We need an energy bill that encourages consumption." Trenton, N.J., Sept. 23, 2002.

"It's a heck of a place to visit." Said about New Orleans, New Orleans, La., Jan. 12. 2006.

"And I suspect that what you'll see, Toby, is there will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses." Speaking with reporters on the anniversary of Huricane Katrina, Gulfport, Miss., Aug. 28, 2006.

"We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do the job." Gulfport, Miss., Sept. 20, 2005.

"Listen, I want to thank leaders of the--in the faith-based and community-based community for being here." Washington, Sept. 6, 2005.

"So please give cash money to organizations that are directly involved in saving lives--save the life who has been affected by Hurricane Katrina." Washington, September 5, 2005.

"I can't wait to join you in the joy of welcoming neighbors into neighborhoods, and small businesses up and running and cutting those ribbons that somebody is creating new jobs." Poplarville, Miss., September 5, 2005.

"Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house--he's lost his entire house--there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005.

"And Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Said to FEMA director Michael Brown, Mobile, Ala., Sept. 2, 2005. Ten days later, Mr. Brown was pressed to resign.

"Because of your work, children who once wanted to die are now preparing to live." Speaking at the White House summit on malaria, Dec. 14, 2006. "

And so I'm for medical liability at the federal level." Washington, March 10, 2006.

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country." Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004.

"We're concerned about AIDS inside our White House--make no mistake about it." Washington, Feb. 7, 2001.

"Today I heard from some opinions that matter a lot to me, and these are the opinions of those who wear the uniform." Washington, D.C., Dec. 13, 2006.

"You took an oath to defend our flag and our freedom. And you kept that oath underseas and under fire." Said to war veterans, Jan. 10, 2006.

"As you can see, I have an injury myself--not here in the hospital, but in combat with a cedar. I eventually won. The cedar gave me a little scratch." Addressing wounded veterans, Amputee Care Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 1, 2006.

"And the question is, are we going to be facile enough to change with--will we be nimble enough; will we be able to deal with the circumstances on the ground? And the answer is, yes, we will." Washington, July 25, 2006.

"I think--tide turning-see, as I remember-I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of--it's easy to see a tide turn--did I say those words?" Washington, June 14, 2006.

"I tell people, let's don't fear the future, let's shape it." Omaha, Neb., June 7, 2006.

"I aim to be a competitive nation." San Jose, Calif., April 21, 2006.

"We got the best work force in America--in the world." Washington, Dec. 2, 2005.

"There may be some tough times here in America. But this country has gone through tough times before, and we're going to do it again." Waco, Texas, Aug. 13, 2002.

"The goals of this country is to enhance prosperity and peace." Said at the White House Conference on Global Literacy, New York, Sept. 6, 2006.

"We expect the states to show us whether or not we're achieving simple objectives--like literacy, literacy in math, the ability to read and write." Washington, April 28, 2005.

"I want to thank you for the importance you've shown for education and literacy." Washington, April 13, 2005.

"The illiteracy level of our children are appalling." Washington, Jan. 23, 2004.

"The public education system in America is one of the most important foundations of our democracy. After all, this is where children from all over America learn to be responsible citizens, and learn to have the skills necessary to take advantage of our fantastic opportunistic society." Santa Clara, Calif., May 1, 2002.

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test." Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001.

"Rarely is the question asked: 'Is our children learning?'" Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000.

"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law." Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2005.

"We look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make it--it would hope--put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't see." Washington, April 14, 2005.

". . . as you know, these are open forums, you're able to come and listen to what I have to say." Press conference, Washington, Oct. 28, 2003.

"I mean, I read the newspaper. I mean, I can tell you what the headlines are. I must confess if I think the story is like, not a fair appraisal, I'll move on. But I know what the story is about." Philadelphia, Dec. 12, 2005.

"It's a myth to think I don't know what's going on. It's a myth to think that I'm not aware that there's opinions that don't agree with mine, because I'm fully aware of that." Philadelphia, Dec. 12, 2005.

"I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves." Washington, Sept. 21, 2003.

"I was not pleased that Hamas has refused to announce its desire to destroy Israel." Washington, May 4, 2006.

"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." Washington, D.C., April 18, 2006.

"I mean there was a serious international effort to say to Saddam, 'You're a threat.' And the 9/11 attacks extenuated that threat, as far as I--concerned." Philadelphia, Dec. 12, 2005.

"And so, in my State of the--my State of the Union--or state--my speech to the nation, whatever you want to call it, speech to the nation--I asked Americans to give 4,000 years--4,000 hours over the next--the rest of your life--of service to America. That's what I asked--4,000 hours." Bridgeport, Conn., April 9, 2002.

"I'm the master of low expectations." Aboard Air Force One, June 4, 2003.

"There was no malfeance [sic], no attempt to hide anything." Washington, July 8, 2002.

"I want to thank the dozens of welfare-to-work stories, the actual examples of people who made the firm and solemn commitment to work hard to embetter [sic] themselves." Washington, April 18, 2002.

"Our nation must come together to unite." Tampa, Fla., June 4, 2001.

"For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three nonfatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. And we're going to do something about it." Philadelphia, May 14, 2001.

"It's very important for folks to understand that when there's more trade, there's more commerce." Quebec, Canada, April 21, 2001.

"I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for predecessors as well." Washington, Jan. 29, 2001.

"I think it's important to bring somebody from outside the system, the judicial system, somebody that hasn't been on the bench and, therefore, there's not a lot of opinions for people to look at." On the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, Washington, October 4, 2005.

"No doubt in my mind, with your help, Dave Lamberti will be the next United States congressman." Speaking at a campaign rally for Jeff Lamberti, Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 26, 2006.

"This morning my administration released the budget numbers for fiscal 2006. These budget numbers are not just estimates; these are the actual results for the fiscal year that ended February the 30th." Referring to the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. [There is no Feb, 30, of course.] Washington, Oct. 11, 2006.

President Bush: Peter. Are you going to ask that question with shades on?
Peter Wallsten of The Los Angeles Times: I can take them off.
Bush: I'm interested in the shade look, seriously.
Wallsten: All right, I'll keep it, then.
Bush: For the viewers, there's no sun.
Wallsten: I guess it depends on your perspective.
Bush: Touché.
Exchange with legally blind reporter Peter Wallsten. Bush later apologized to him, Washington, June 14, 2006.

"You know, when I campaigned here in 2000, I said, I want to be a war president. No president wants to be a war president, but I am one." Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 26, 2006.

"You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you're gone." Washington, May 5, 2006.

"If people want to get to know me better, they've got to know my parents and the values my parents instilled in me, and the fact that I was raised in West Texas, in the middle of the desert, a long way away from anywhere, hardly. There's a certain set of values you learn in that experience." Washington, May 5, 2006.

"I like my buddies from West Texas. I liked them when I was young, I liked them then I was middle-age, I liked them before I was president, and I like them during president, and I like them after president." Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 1, 2006.

"I'll be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven't seen the movie. I've heard about it. I hope you go-you know-I hope you go back to the ranch and the farm is what I'm about to say." Explaining that he hasn't yet seen the film "Brokeback Mountain," Manhattan, Kan., Jan. 23, 2006.

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