What's The Big Idea? Start With Language Commentator Mary C. Curtis admits the next administration has many challenges ahead, but vocabulary won't be one. She applauds the president-elect for making it cool to be smart.
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What's The Big Idea? Start With Language

Mary C. Curtis is a writer and editor based in Charlotte, N.C. She has been a columnist or editor at The Charlotte Observer, and The New York Times. A 2006 Nieman Fellow, Curtis blogs for the Nieman Watchdog site. Wendy Yang/Charlotte Observer hide caption

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Wendy Yang/Charlotte Observer

On Nov. 4, Americans turned the page on George W. Bush. But don't close the book on the White House yet. President-elect Barack Obama has made it cool to be smart. Americans may be out of practice but be assured we're up to the challenge.

Turns out it's not a racial gap: It's the vocabulary, stupid.

It's the metaphor and nuance in Obama's carefully constructed speeches. Even those around him are raising the bar. Campaign guru David Axelrod used the word "insuperable" on TV.

Insuperable: impossible to overcome.

Time to get out the thesaurus and brush the cobwebs off that dictionary. Mr. President-elect, or should I call you tutor-in-chief, you must be patient with all of us in the thawing red and blue states. We will catch up, though the odds are "insuperable."

You have a tough job ahead: fixing the economy, resolving wars on two fronts, gazing into Vladimir Putin's soul. You have called on the American people to help you out. But who knew we would have to work so hard?

George W. Bush was never so demanding.

The most famous big word that came out of his mouth was "strategery," when he was Will Ferrell and the show was Saturday Night Live. W. admitted that he was, shall we say, an indifferent student.

The public could feel superior just by knowing the correct pronunciation of "nuclear."

Perhaps remembering the last eight years, we traded in a child of privilege who was one of the guys to the former head of the Harvard Law Review.

You took your Ivy League book learning seriously. Americans knew that droppin' your final g's on the campaign trail was a folksy ruse. So, now, be your true self and lead by example.

Be wise, but please, be patient.

Your eloquent erudition is part of your charm.

"Eloquent erudition." You see, President-elect Obama, it's working already.