Grammar and Vocabulary

Can’t we elect a President with chops in both?

What is it about this nation’s highest office?  Why do we keep getting Presidents that seem to have problems (albeit to varying degrees)  with the English language?  No matter how smart these guys are, every one of them seems to struggle with simple grammar and vocabulary.

Should be issued to each President upon election.
These two books should be issued to each President upon election. Particularly the one on the left (but I'd suggest making it the skinny soft-cover version: easier to carry everywhere).

President Obama is just the latest guy to get the job who seems to have a few issues with his mother tongue.  This time, two mistakes that I find particularly annoying are coming up: the use of “I” when “me” is correct, and disagreements between subjects and verbs.  The President made the former mistake early in his first press conference with this comment:

“President Bush graciously invited Michelle and I to meet with him and first lady Laura Bush.”

Dude (check me out, all familiar with the President, calling him “dude”), it’s “Michelle and me”.  You use “I” as a subject and “me” as an object.  This is non-negotiable. It’s a common mistake though, and the general consensus seems to be that it stems from having been corrected as a young child: a kid might say “Stevie and me are going to play now”, and a parent might respond “honey, it’s Stevie and I” (to which my wise-ass kids might answer “no dad, you’re not playing with Stevie, I am” – which is just one more reason I love my kids).

But that’s a bullshit excuse.  Either you know the correct usage or you do not.  This particular mistake seems to be made most often by people trying to sound smarter than they are: you’ll hear it a lot in bad reality television for example (oh don’t get your knickers in a twist; I don’t think Obama is worried that the American people believe he’s stupid).  It also happens when people think that using “me” just sounds wrong – which it kind of does, I suppose.  If you don’t know better.  Perhaps the President thought most Americans weren’t smart enough to know the correct usage (I fear that might actually be accurate – perhaps if we replaced those useless hotel-nightstand Bibles with “The Elements of Style” we could make some headway here), and didn’t want to sound wrong to them. Regardless, it’s still embarrassing.

Easily as bad is the subject/verb disagreement issue, which happens more than enough to have become irritating to me.  For example, I heard the President say this during a recent G20 press conference:

“…each country has its own quirks and own particular issues that a leader may decide is really really important; something that is non-negotiable for them. “

Um, that should have been “…that a leader may decide are really, really important; some things that are non-negotiable for them”.  The verb is referring the plural noun “issues”.  The word “is” is singular.  And while I know this isn’t an earth-shaking problem, he does it fairly often when answering questions off the cuff and it just bugs the shit out of me.

Overall though, when it comes to grammar and vocabulary, President Obama would certainly pass the simple test I suggest at the close of this piece, and he is admittedly a huge upgrade: a veritable Princeton English professor compared to other past Presidents (not to mention vice-Presidents), some of whom simply murdered the language.  I won’t even bother with listing some of the spastic sentences Bush 43 puked into microphones over his eight years, because all I really need to say is one word: Nuke-you-ler.  You fucking moron.  Really.  Wasn’t there one damn adviser on your staff that had the stones to tell you how fucking stupid you sounded every time that word worked its way past your frat boy smirk?

And Clinton….well let’s just say that Obama’s mistaken usage of the word “is” doesn’t compare to the fact that Clinton seemed not even to know the definition of the word.  Nor, apparently, the definition of the phrase “sexual relations”.  And he clearly misunderstood what cigar box meant.

"Hey darlin'. Whyncha come over here, and bring me that cigar, would you?"
"Hey darlin', put down that bowl of ambrosia and slide on over here next to Big Bill, will ya? And be a sweetheart and bring me one of them big ol' cigars, too."

Those are just a couple of examples from the the last three office holders; I’m sure there are plenty more.  And really, you don’t even need to screw up a sentence to abuse the language.  Lyndon Johnson deserves an honorary award for using the language when he just shouldn’t: he’d converse with his staff while taking a dump with the bathroom door open.  No, I’m not kidding.

Hey You! I Come watch me poop!
Hey You! Come watch me poop!

Where I live, you can’t get away from poor grammar, spelling, and vocabulary.  The misuse of apostrophes is epidemic (as in: apostrophe’s), my son’s second grade teacher seems to be unaware that Austin isn’t just the name of a local dinner joint, and there’s actually a popular restaurant nearby called Nick’s Tomatoe Pie (no one caught that?  Not the owner, the printer, the sign maker?).  And yes, I’m aware that I too occasionally break some rules of grammar when I write (um…..creative license…every time, yes).

But I, for one, think that we ought to avoid electing anyone to the office of President or vice-President (don’t think I’ve forgotten about you Dan Quayle)  that does not have a command of the English language at least equal to that of my twelve year old daughter.

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3 Responses to Grammar and Vocabulary

  1. Teresa says:

    Brad, your post makes my heart go pitter-patter. ;) The ‘you vs. I’ thing has been bugging me for years! I cringe every time someone botches it, which is often (in fact, I don’t have a facial tic; I just cringe a lot).

    I have both those books within arm’s reach at my computer, and I hope I never commit a gaffe so huge that it makes you punch your screen.

  2. Jack Donohue says:

    No question nuke-ya-ler is the fuckin’ absolute worst. Anything hotter than the sun and likely sooner or later to incinerate hundreds of millions if not all of us rates correct pronunciation -if only to lessen the likelihood of an unthinkable karmic rebuke.

  3. Brom Keifetz says:

    Brad: I wrote this up as a comment to my a post by my friend Buelahman, although it stands on its own as an analysis of Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. I posted it as a note to Facebook. Nobody’s going near this shit over there. Everybody’s a Care Bear fanatic over there except for Robey, Nancy, Chris and Jennifer Gilligan, so I figured you’d enjoy it and I’d take it off FB.

    [This note inspired by the blog BUELAHMAN'S RED STATE REVOLT]

    Buelahman:

    What you have painstakingly set forth here about Gates is exactly why I get so infuriated at the responses I get when I leave a criticism about the current administration on any blog which is not quite so focused on peace, freedom, social justice, responsibility, anti-imperialism, proportionality in criminal sanction, and steady economic growth as yours, ours, Torrance’s, etc.

    The standard response is “give him a chance.” “A chance” to do what, exactly? Blow the world in two? Completely beggar the dollar? I don’t know exactly how much time these people think is available to the USA and its president to take proper decisive action and reverse the course he’s on, but it’s measured in months if not weeks. I’ll come back to that, though, and focus for a moment on the meaning of Robert Gates being held over from Bush’s Administration to Obama’s.

    Does everyone remember the circumstances surrounding the firing of Donald Rumsfeld and the hiring of Robert Gates as Secretary Of War in the middle of the 2nd GWB term? The polls were indicating a landslide Democratic win in the midterms. They were also indicating for the first time since 9/11/01,a drop in public support for US Imperialist War below 45%. [NB: While Bush himself finished with very low approval ratings, the approval ratings for his wars once at 90% found a floor at around 48% and were usually around 50% for most of the 2nd term, except for early October of 2006].

    Two significant events followed in quick succession that October. A group convened by James Baker III which included Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz, Secretary Lehman, a number of the more moderate Reagan/Bush41 hands, and perhaps Robert Gates himself, presented President George W. Bush with a plan for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and South Asia, to be completed over a period of three or four months. The purpose of this was twofold: (1) to help the Republican Party stave off a massacre in the midterm elections (2) to get out of two disastrous wars and salvage something of a legacy for Bush43.

    The press portrayed the Baker Plan as “Daddy coming to Junior’s rescue–AGAIN,” thus forstalling any possibility that Bush the Lesser might actually use the Baker Plan if only in service of his own reputation. He was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.

    Enter McCain with a diametrically opposite Iraq (and South Asia) plan: “The Surge.” Bush The Lesser had a reason to tell Baker to go to hell, with the press’s favorite politician offering an escalation plan instead of a withdrawal plan. Enter now a surprising voice of reason in the whole matter: Secretary Of War, Donald Rumsfeld. He presented Bush The Lesser with a plan splitting the difference between Baker’s immediate withdrawal and McCain’s “Surge.” The Rumsfeld plan of October 2006 would have a smaller “Surge” of shorter duration with a fixed date of Christmas 2008 to have EVERY active duty serviceperson and all contractors out of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush did not comment on Rumsfeld’s compromise and it got very little attention in the press.

    The Midterm Elections of 2006 were as bad for the Republicans as predicted and Rove chose the perfect scapegoat. Give that man a cigar, Donald Rumsfeld, who was sacrificed to make way for a “moderate,” Robert Gates. This seemed to make the press overjoyed and mollified a Democratic Party to the point of complete inaction in the 110th Congress, despite having been given Congress to address this very problem. There was a strange couple of days following the firing of Rumsfeld and hiring of Gates in which there was open hostility between Rumsfeld and the Bush/Cheney/Rove troika, with Rumsfeld making veiled threats to “tell everything.”

    Instead, the world was treated to the same sort of weasel words from Gates that you cite in your piece, Buelahman. Gates made it seem as if he were on the verge of ending the wars immediately, but somehow in a more “responsible” and “mature” way than the Baker Plan or Rumsfeld Plan had set forth. Rumsfeld “settled” for being allowed to apologize to the American people for his own poor judgement from the start and off he crept from the main stage. Even and espcially still today, Donald Rumsfeld is considered an insane man of violence and Robert Gates the opposite–an experience, peaceable warrior whose goals are the ever elusive PEACE WITH HONOR in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite his immediate swith to support for McCain’s “surge” and his own robbing Peter to pay Paul in service of the “bellicose” Bush and subsequently the “pacifist” Obama.

    In a bit of tragic irony, the world would have been far better off had Obama chosen Donald Rumsfeld as his Secretary Of War instead of keeping Gates!

    But Bill Clinton had Obama nailed dead to rights in February of 2008 when Clinton famously said that Obama’s “pacifism” was a “fairy tale.” In hindsight, and with the knowledge of her relatively peaceable style as Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s treatment at the hands of Obama in the primary season showed exactly how devoid of principles Barack Obama is. Why he was framing the race for the Democratic nominee as between himself as Gandhi versus Clinton as Erwin Rommel!

    Had Barack Obama truly been an agent of change and not another right-wing American imperialist he would have bounced Gates in favor of an Iraq War and South Asia War opponent such as Richard Clarke, Admiral William J Fallon, or Valerie Plame. Obama’s choice to keep Gates ought to have told everyone exactly where the world stood with Obama. I believe it’s always better to know where you stand than to maintain fantasies, but it seems that you, Buelahman, are among the very few connecting the public dots on Gates. And on what Gates means going forward.

    Robert Gates and Barack Obama’s fiscal military profligacy are promoting of two potential disasters the likes of which America has not seen in a long time and could well mean America’s self-destruction.

    DISASTER 1, of course, is the second commodity shock and dollar crash Dr Ron Paul has been so eloquently warning of for years now. Combine steeply contangoed energy and metals curves with an inflationary fiscal policy elsewhere with the destabilizing effect that more war will definitely have, and the USA will have an economic condition EXACTLY like that of Weimar Germany between the wars and like Russia and the FSU immediately following the end of communism: RECESS-FLATION. This means a $10 box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes and food and water riots in every city in America.

    DISASTER 2 is what could happen if the Obama/Gates plan to escalate indefinitely in South Asia to the point that Gates has no choice but to quarter 20,000 or more US servicepeople in the disputed territory of Pakistani Kashmir. There is already a shooting war going on there between India and Pakistan costing 25 lives a day. When 20,000 or more US troops are in the region with no clear assignment of any kind, let alone setting the table for India/Pakistan Peace Talks, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan becomes a legitimate possibility.

    You see with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka just how fast problems in Afhanistan and Pakistan spill over into other troubled areas not even party to anything to do with al-Qaida or Islam of any sort!

    GIVE HIM A CHANCE? Why do these idiotic bloggers insult my intelligence? They act as if Obama has eight years to make this right. He’s lucky if he has eight months and he doesn’t have as long as eight months if his key advisor is Robert Gates.

    NOTE: I’m sure I have an agreementn error or 10 in there. I dashed it off quickly.

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