Words From The White House

Words and Phrases Coined or Popularized by America's Presidents

by Paul Dickson

Hardcover, 197 pages, St Martins Press, List Price: $18 | purchase

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Title
Words From The White House
Subtitle
Words and Phrases Coined or Popularized by America's Presidents
Author
Paul Dickson

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NPR Summary

America's presidents have contributed not only to the nation's governance, but also to its language. In his new book, Paul Dickson demonstrates the extent of presidential lexical innovation by cataloging words, phrases and malapropisms that originated on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Excerpt: Words from the White House

A.

administration. The term during which a president holds office. George Washington from his Farewell Address: "In reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am uncon­scious of intentional error."

alice blue. A pale green­ish-blue created by a dress de­signer in homage to Theodore Roosevelt's daughter Alice, born in 1884; later she became Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Attesting to the popularity of the color was the song "Al­ice Blue Gown," recorded by various artists including Frank Sinatra. In his Browser's Dic­tionary, John Ciardi points out that the Roosevelts are the only family to have given the language two eponyms—Alice blue and teddy bear.1

america first. Cast as a slogan by Woodrow Wilson: "Our whole duty, for the present [1915, during World War I] is summed up in this motto, 'America First.' The motto sug­gests we should think of America before we think of Europe in order that America may be fit to be Europe's friend."2 In his 1920 campaign, Warren G. Harding put a new twist on Wil­son's America First: "It's an inspiration to patriotic devotion to safeguard America first, to stabilize America first, to prosper America first, to think of America first, to exalt America first."

americanism. Allegiance to the traditions, institutions, and national ideals of the United States. The word American­ism was coined by John Witherspoon (1723–1794), president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and signer of the Declaration of Independence, in reference to words or phrases distinct from British use. Witherspoon wrote in 1781 that the word described "phrases or terms, or a con­struction of sentences, even among persons of rank and educa­tion, different from the use of the same terms or phrases, or the construction of similar sentences in Great-Britain. The word Americanism, which I have coined for the purpose, is exactly similar in its formation and signification to the word Scotti­cism." Thomas Jefferson gave the word a secondary mean­ing in the sense of an attachment to the United States and its values in a letter to fellow signer of the Declaration Edward Rutledge on June 24, 1797, in which he wrote of "the dictates of reason and pure Americanism." Warren G. Harding won a 22 landslide victory in 1920 by promising a return to traditional American ideals—"normalcy" and adherence to "American­ism." He later admitted, "I don't know much about Americanism, but it's a damn good word with which to carry an election." The­odore Roosevelt was more definitive: "Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardi­hood—the virtues that made America. The things that will de­stroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life."3

americanize. To make American in form, style, or char­acter. The word was coined by John Jay, George Washington's secretary for foreign affairs. In 1787 he wrote to John Trum­bull, "I wish to see our people more Americanized, if I may use that expression; until we feel and act as an independent nation, we shall always suffer from foreign intrigue."4 ( John Trumbull, who would later become Jay's secretary, was a respected artist whose painting Declaration of Independence was used on the re­verse of the $2 bill. A commemorative 6¢ postage stamp shows him with sword in hand at the Battle of Bunker Hill.)

analyzation. The action or process of analyzing; analysis. This word was used by George W. Bush on June 23, 2000: "This case has had full analyzation and has been looked at a lot. I understand the emotionality of death penalty cases." It was thereafter cited as a Bushism, another mangled coinage from the chief executive. A quick consult of the Oxford English Dic­tionary shows that this is a respectable word, dating back to 1698.5 23

angloman. An admirer or partisan of England. A creation of Thomas Jefferson first recorded in 1787 in a letter to John Adams: "It will be of great consequence to France and England to have America governed by a Galloman or Angloman." (A galloman, by the way, is a francophile.) Jefferson had a low regard for this person whom he had named. He wrote in a let­ter to James Madison, "I never doubted the chicanery of the Angloman."6

anglomane. John Adams's adoption of the French word for a person exhibiting the symptoms of Anglomania, which he used to describe a partisan or advocate of English (or Brit­ish) interests in North America: "The parties of rich and poor, of gentlemen and simplemen, unbalanced by some third pow­er, will always look out for foreign aid, and never be at a loss for names, pretexts and distinctions. Whig and Tory, Constitu­tionalist and Republican, Anglomane and Francomane, Athe­nian and Spartan, will serve the purpose as well as the Guelph and Ghibilline." 7

anglomania. An excessive fondness for that which is English. This term of derogation was coined by Thomas Jefferson in 1787 in a letter to Madame de Corny, a formidable hostess in Paris at that time: "I know your taste for the works of art gives you a little disposition to Anglomania."8 Jefferson also created a synonym for anglomania: anglomany, which he used as the opposite of Americanism.


From Words from the White House by Paul Dickson. Copyright 2013 by Paul Dickson. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA.