September 04, 2004

Not all Bushisms originate with Bush

Some people have no ear for when a phrase sounds ludicrous. Even crashing incompatibilities, bathos, or undesired jingly phonetic similarities seem not to impinge on their consciousness. To observe that President Bush is one of these linguistically insensitive souls is not exactly a news item. And there could scarcely have been a better illustration, or so I thought, than his remark early today at an "ask President Bush" session at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in Ohio, to the effect that in the nightmare mass murders of Beslan, North Ossetia (southern Russia) we have seen "the horror of terror". The horror of terror. Surely no one but Bush could have slopped together such a ridiculous-sounding phrase — two virtually synonymous and phonetically similar abstract nouns fighting each other like two possums in a sack, I thought as I heard it. But to my surprise, this inept phrase gets over 190 prior Google hits. It is true that our president is not a gifted phrasemaker. But one must never forget how many other inexpert and unstylish users of English (which, after all, has between one and two billion people using it) have preceded him. Not all Bushisms originate with Bush.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at September 4, 2004 02:15 PM