President Bush's Pronounced Efforts to Speak Well

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President Bush has a special way with the English language. Asked by Juan Williams about a recent misstep during the State of the Union, Mr. Bush said: "I'm not that good at pronouncing words anyway."

SCOTT SIMON, host:

There's been some debate in Washington about the letters I and C. Is the majority party in Congress the Democratic Party or Democrat Party, as President Bush sometimes puts it? Here's NPR's David Greene.

DAVID GREENE: The plan was for the president to congratulate the new Democratic majority, at least that's how it was written in the next advance text of his State of the Union address. But when Mr. Bush actually spoke, he left out the last syllable in Democratic.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate, and I congratulate the Democrat majority.

GREENE: Republicans have been using Democrat as an adjective off and on for years. Some say it started in the 1940s when Republicans said the other party was controlled by labor bosses and big city machines, and so not really democratic at all. The infamous Joe McCarthy was fond of the shortened term in the 1950s. And in 1976, when Senator Bob Dole was President Gerald Ford's vice presidential running mate, Dole used the term in a debate.

Senator BOB DOLE (Republican, Kansas): I figured up the other day, if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it'd be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.

GREENE: That has been remembered as one of the most bitter partisan attack lines in American politics. And more recently, the term was popularized again by Republican firebrand Newt Gingrich in the 1980s and '90s. So in his January 23rd State of the Union, was Mr. Bush trying to get under Democrats' skin? He insisted in an interview with NPR this week that there was no ill intent.

President BUSH: The idea that somehow I was trying to needle the Democrats is just - yeah, it's probably Texas - who knows what it is.

GREENE: You may wonder what Texas has to do with it. Well, it turns out Mr. Bush has tried this argument before, that as a Texan he talks differently. On the 2004 campaign trail in Wisconsin, Mr. Bush was onstage with a small business owner name Eric. The president said the government gave Eric a tax break.

President BUSH: Because we want to encourage Eric to invest. And so he says he buys a 400-ton -

ERIC: Punch press.

President BUSH: Punch press. It's kind of hard to say if you're from Texas. Punch press.

GREENE: In 2005, Mr. Bush had the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots at the White House. He noted linebacker Larry Izzo had gone to Rice University in Texas. But he had trouble with Izzo's name.

President BUSH: Is it Izzo or Izzo?

Mr. LARRY IZZO (New England Patriots): Izzo.

President BUSH: Yeah. Well, if you're from Texas, you say Izzo and if you're from...

Mr. IZZO: Sounds good to me.

President BUSH: If you're from Massachusetts, it's Izzo. At least I got Rice right.

Ms. DIANNE MARKLEY (University of North Texas): If you told the normal person in Texas that this person's name or this should be pronounced Izzo, then the Texan would call this person Izzo.

GREENE: That's Dianne Markley at the University of North Texas. She studied Texas accents for her thesis in the field of linguistics. And she tried to teach this reporter from Pittsburgh how Texans do have a different way of speaking.

Let me try those two words in Pennsylvanian. I might.

Ms. MARKLEY: And I would say, I might. I might not.

GREENE: But if there's a distinct accent in Texas, Markley said, she's not aware of any widespread misuse of adjectives.

Ms. MARKLEY: What I hear from most educated Texans would be the Democratic Party. I don't hear Democrat Party here in Texas. But perhaps there is a section of Texas where that is more prevalent. I have not heard that.

GREENE: Maybe she needs to spend more time in Washington, D.C. David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

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