Wildfires and mid-term elections: a look back at 2018 in the US

Liz Walter

RichVintage/E+/GettyImages

In this, the second of two year-end posts, I look at words associated with some major events and trends of 2018 from the perspective of the US. I’ve picked just six topics from an action-packed year, and I’ve tried to go for variety rather than simply importance, since the purpose of these posts is to provide useful vocabulary, not to report on the news or provide an opinion on it. Continue reading “Wildfires and mid-term elections: a look back at 2018 in the US”

Words of Watergate: Part 2

gateBy Hugh Rawson

President Richard M. Nixon and his men – and all his aides were men back in the benighted 1970s – leaned heavily on harmless-sounding, euphemistic language in order to obscure, if not conceal completely, the criminal activities that formed the Watergate scandal. Examples include caper, house cleaning, plumber, and others noted in last month’s post.

Some of Mr. Nixon’s aides could turn vivid phrases, however. The most talented of these was John D. Ehrlichman, the president’s chief domestic affairs adviser, who blossomed as a novelist after being sentenced to jail for his role in Watergate. It was Ehrlichman who suggested to John W. Dean III, the president’s counsel, that he deep-six the phone-tapping equipment that had been found in the office safe of E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a White House plumber (officially a “consultant”) implicated in the Watergate break-in. Deep-six is sailor’s slang for tossing something overboard into water at least six fathoms (thirty-six feet) deep. Dean wasn’t familiar with the expression, however. As he testified to the Senate committee that investigated Watergate:

“I asked him what he meant by ‘deep six.’ He leaned back in his chair and said: ‘You drive across the [Potomac] river at night, don’t you? Well, when you cross over the river on your way home, just toss the briefcase into the river.’” Continue reading “Words of Watergate: Part 2”

Words of Watergate

top secretBy Hugh Rawson

The fortieth anniversary of the Watergate scandal is well worth observing not only for its political results – an American president, Richard M. Nixon, was forced to resign and a number of his top aides went to jail – but for the way it enriched our political vocabulary. The scandal popularized such words and phrases as cover up, deep six, deep throat, dirty tricks, follow the money, inoperative, smoking gun, and stonewall. And it also offers lessons about the dangers of using deceptive language that remain relevant today.

The words of Watergate tended to be highly euphemistic. The president and his men tried at every step along the way to sugar coat criminal actions through the artful use of language. Thus, the incident that brought the scandal to life, the break-in on June 17, 1972, at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate  complex in Washington, D.C., was initially downplayed by Ron Ziegler, the president’s press secretary, as “a third-rate burglary attempt.” (Actually, this was the second third-rate burglary at the DNC office. The purpose of the June 17 break-in was to fix a telephone bug that had been installed there at the end of May.) Continue reading “Words of Watergate”

Red State Blue State

By Hugh Rawson

Now that the national political conventions are over, and the candidates of the two major parties officially selected, the interminable campaign for the American presidency is heading into the home stretch, where all eyes are focused on election maps composed of red states, meaning basically Republican states, and blue states, referring to Democratic ones.

The firm association of red with Republican and blue with Democratic is comparatively new in American politics, dating only to the election of 2000. Previously, different publications and TV stations used different color schemes on election maps. Yellow and green were sometimes employed, while red and blue often had opposite meanings from today. For example, in 1980, TV newsman David Brinkley described the many blue-colored states on a map that portrayed Republican Ronald Reagan’s overwhelming victory as “beginning to look like a suburban swimming pool.”  And in 1992, anticipating Democrat Bill Clinton’s triumph over Republican George H. W. Bush, a Boston Globe columnist wrote: “But when the anchormen turn to their electronic tote boards and the red states for Clinton start swamping the blue states for Bush, this will be a strange night for me.” Continue reading “Red State Blue State”

Baloney and Other Disparaging Dishes

by Hugh Rawson

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made headlines recently when rejecting criticisms of a Muslim-American whom he had nominated as a state judge. “It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background,” said the Governor. “I’m happy that he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.”

Christie’s use of baloney in the sense of “nonsense,” “rubbish,” or “foolishness,” as opposed to the kind of baloney, or  bologna sausage, that one buys in a supermarket or delicatessen, has many precedents in American politics. New York Governor Al Smith helped popularize baloney in this sense  in the 1920s and ’30s. When declining to pose with trowel in hand for a cameraman at a cornerstone-laying ceremony in 1926, Smith said “That’s just baloney. Everybody knows I can’t lay bricks.” More famously, he objected to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s devaluation of the dollar in 1933, saying he was “for gold dollars as against baloney dollars.” And Smith’s speeches in support of Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s opponent in the 1936 presidential election, included the memorable refrain, “No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.” Continue reading “Baloney and Other Disparaging Dishes”