January 31, 2004

Kennedyism of the day

William Saletan's 1/27/2004 Slate column on John Kerry, says in passing:

I couldn't decide whether to laugh or wince as Kennedy, the lifelong legislator, exalted Kerry's "two terms" in Vietnam—then corrected his description, incorrectly, to "two sessions." (Pssst, Senator … the word is tours.)

I can see that English time period words would be confusing to those who are not native speakers, and sometimes an occasion of error for those who are. At least in recent U.S. armed forces lingo, a period of service in a foreign country is a tour (of duty), while in American political parlance a period of elected service in a legislature is a term, and a period of activity for the legislature as a whole is a session, whereas in American academia the quantum of instruction for college students is a semester (except when it's a quarter), sometimes informally called a term, and a period of practical instruction for a medical student at a certain stage is a (clinical) rotation, and so on.

Like Saletan, I'm not too surprised that Kennedy assimilated Kerry's Vietnam tour to the legislative term. Unlike Saletan, I'll also point out that his colleague Jacob Weisberg is not collecting Kennedyisms, just as he's not collecting Kosisms.

By the way, I think we can assume that Saletan's half-laugh, half-wince was a symptom of igryness (otherwise known as vergüenza ajena or plaatsvervangende schaamte).

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 31, 2004 11:16 AM