January 30, 2007


If you listened, you probably noticed it. The President dropped the "-ic" morpheme in his State of Union address when he said, "I congratulate the Democrat majority." Many thought this was a calculated insult that othewise belied his protestation of a new bipartisanship. They should be getting used to by now, though, because it's been used over and over again in recent years.

What's more interesting is Bush's effort to defuse this criticism. The Washington Post picked up on it.

In the President's own words:

It's nothing more than an oversight

I didn't even know I did it

Gosh, it's probably Texas

I'm not good at pronouncing words anyway

There was no intentional slight of anyone

There's probably no way to determine for sure whether it was conscious, an oversight, or intentional. But regional dialect studies don't include -ic dropping as a common Texas speech pattern, eliminating that one. So what about his "I'm not good at pronouncing words anyway" excuse?

People who habitually mispronounce words usually do this rather consistently. So if Bush had some sort of personal speech problem with the morpheme, -ic, you'd expect him to drop it across the board. Let's look at his other uses of the -ic morpheme in that same address.

economic reform

public schools

basic private health insurance plan

basic health care insurance

domestic oil production

Strategic Petroleum Research

Atlantic Ocean

public servants

horrific scale

democratic legislature (of Afghanistan)

democratic constitution (of Afghanistan)

tragic escalation

democratic Iraq

diplomatic strategy

democratic Palestine

Of the 16 potential -ic words to which the morpheme applies, Bush had no trouble pronouncing it well -- except for this one time: "I congratulate the Democrat majority." And when he used the same word in reference to foreign countries, it also came out just fine. Afghanistan is said to have a "democratic legislature" and a "democratic constitution," while Iraq and Palestine are said to be "democratic."

Wondering if Bush has developed this affectation only recently, I also did an -ic check on his State of the Union speech of January 2003 and found:

domestic programs

historic education reform

economic growth

democratic Palestine

ballistic missiles

Atomic Energy Agency

catastrophic attacks

economic stagnation

economic sanctions

No -ic dropping here. All -ic words are fully formed. Must not be just recent.

Sorry. I'm afraid that it's not his Texas dialect and it's not just vernacular pronunciation--like his habitual way of pronouncing "nuclear."

It must be something else.

Posted by Roger Shuy at January 30, 2007 07:10 PM