May 14, 2004

Have you been disgraced?

"Like you, I have been disgraced from what I've seen on TV, what took place in the prison," President Bush said yesterday during a campaign visit to West Virginia where he was discussing education. Sources using AP generally reported "disgraced from"; some others had "disgraced about"; a few reported "disgraced by". But never mind the preposition. what no news sources have pointed out is that the President's ungainly piece of unscripted commentary about Abu Ghraib was surely uttered by mistake. In groping through his mental lexicon for that past participle he hit the wrong verb.

I, at least, am convinced that disgraced couldn't have been the word he was after. There are at least three reasons: (1) it makes no sense, since Bush is not personally amd directly in disgrace over this (no one says he helped wire up prisoners or unleash dogs on them); (2) it would not be to the point (this isn't about his shame or loss of standing in society); and (3) even if some people thought it were all about him being shamed, Bush makes it a paramount principle of his administration that no one ever admits to shame about America (I doubt that any president would allow talk of America or the presidency having been disgraced, certainly not in an election year).

No, Bush fumbled his words once again. Stumbling around between saying "I was disgusted" (or perhaps "dismayed" or "disturbed") and "It was a disgrace" (or "It was disgraceful"), he tripped over the dis- words, picked up the wrong one, and blurted out "I was disgraced." One NPR reporter (Don Gonyea, May 14, 2004) talked about this being the strongest condemnation yet. It wasn't. Perhaps one should say that the President of the United States ought to feel indirectly disgraced by the revelations about what happened in Abu Ghraib on his watch; perhaps we Americans all should. But I am absolutely certain that the President himself did not mean any such thing. Being disgusted (or dismayed or disturbed) is quite different from being disgraced by an event; to be disgraced is to have an event reflect badly on you personally -- it has to bring shame down upon you.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 14, 2004 10:39 AM