All the Presidents’ Words: 11 Words from U.S. Presidents

2009 Five Presidents, President George W. Bush, President Elect Barack Obama, Former Presidents George H W Bush, Bill Clinton & Jimmy Carter, Standing

It’s Presidents Day, and we here at Wordnik are celebrating by taking a look at some presidential words. Some are coinages, others were merely popularized, and at least one has been misattributed. Cue “Hail to the Chief” as you explore these 11 words from U.S. presidents.


“In reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error.”

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

While the word administration was in use for hundreds of years before Washington’s, his was the first to refer specifically to a “U.S. president’s period in office,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Another Washingtonian coinage is Brother Jonathan, “a humorous designation for the people of the United States collectively.” The term is supposed to have come from the way the first president addressed one of his trusted advisors, Jonathan Trumbull.


“Necessity obliges us to neologize.”

Thomas Jefferson, Correspondence, August 16, 1813

Of course neologize, to coin or use new words, is one of our favorite presidential neologisms. Like Wordnik founder Erin McKean, Jefferson was in favor of making up new words, including belittle, odometer, Anglophobia, and one isolated use of public relations.


“The Democratic O.K. Club are hereby ordered to meet at the House of Jacob Colvin.”

Democratic Republican New Era, March 23, 1840

The word OK can thank Martin Van Buren, at least in part, for its popularity. The affirmation began as part of 1839 “slang fad” in Boston and New York, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and an abbreviation of oll korrect, a deliberate misspelling of “all correct.”

Around the same time, says Mental Floss, “OK merged with Martin van Buren’s nickname, Old Kinderhook,” and later gained negative meanings such as “out of kash” and “out of karacter.” However, what might have given OK the long-term OK was the telegraph, for which OK became a handy way to acknowledge transmissions.

bully pulpit

“He had finished a paragraph of a distinctly character, when he suddenly stopped, swung round in his swivel chair, and said: ‘I suppose my critics will call that preaching but I have got such a bully pulpit!’”

Lyman Abbott, “A Review of President Roosevelt’s Administration,” The Outlook, February 27, 1909

The phrase bully pulpit, “an advantageous position, as for making one’s views known or rallying support,” is attributed second hand to Theodore Roosevelt. As World Wide Words points out, bully here may not refer to the modern sense of being pushed around or harassed, but to an older meaning of “excellent” or “splendid.”

Another term coined by Roosevelt is lunatic fringe, the fanatical or extremist members of a group or society. He also popularized muckraker, “one who inquires into and publishes scandal and allegations of corruption among political and business leaders.”

We can’t forget the teddy bear which was named for the 28th president, who, famous as a big-game hunter and conservationist, inspired a cartoon with two bears named Teddy. German toy dealers smelled an opportunity and created a line of “Roosevelt bears” to export to the U.S.


“America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.”

Warren G. Harding, Address before Home Market Club at Boston, Massachusetts, May 14, 1920

Like bloviate — a word Harding used to describe his own “long-winded speaking style,” normalcy was a word that Harding popularized rather than coined, according to Visual Thesaurus. However, Harding is credited with creating the term founding fathers.


“Very ‘iffy’, Mr. Roosevelt might characterize such talk.”

World This Week, May 9, 1937

Like bully pulpit, iffy is attributed by word of mouth: FDR is said to have been the first to use the word to describe uncertainty or doubt about a situation.

domino theory

“Eisenhower’s speech invoked what would be known as the ‘domino theory’ — the notion a communist takeover in Indochina would lead other Asian nations to follow suit.”

Andrew Glass, “Eisenhower invokes the domino theory, Aug. 4, 1953,” Politico, August 4, 2015

The domino theory, the idea that once one nation becomes Communist, neighboring ones will also fall, like dominoes, under Communist control, comes from Eisenhower’s 1953 speech: “You have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle.”

welfare queen

“Linda Taylor, the 47-year-old ‘welfare queen’, was being held in jail in Tucson, Ariz., Friday at the request of Chicago police in lieu of a $100,000 bond.”

George Bliss, “‘Welfare queen’ jailed in Tucson,” The Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1974

Welfare queen, referring to a woman who appears to live in luxury while defrauding the welfare system, is often associated with Ronald Reagan. However, he never actually used the term, and its attribution actually goes to George Bliss of The Chicago Tribune.

voodoo economics

“Bush warned a friendly crowd of students not to be deceived by Reagan’s ‘voodoo economics’.”

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 11, 1980

Voodoo economics is a derogatory term for unrealistic or ill-advised economic policies, as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) puts it. It was coined by the first president Bush, George H.W., in 1980, prior to becoming the Gipper’s running mate: “Bush warned a friendly crowd of students not to be deceived by Reagan’s ‘voodoo economics’.”

axis of evil

“States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”

George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 29, 2002

Axis of evil, referring to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, is probably one of the most well-known Dubya-isms. The term was coined by his speechwriter at the time, David Frum, who has said that he saw similarities between this axis of evil and the WWII Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

President Bush is also known for what some consider linguistic gaffes, such as misunderestimate, embetterment, and nucular for “nuclear.” While misunderestimate is a conflation of misunderstand and underestimate, according to the OED, embetter was an actual word used from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

As for nucular, that’s an example metathesis, “the switching of two adjacent sounds,” and Bush wasn’t the only who went nucular. Presidents Eisenhower, Carter, and Clinton were also guilty of “mispronouncing” the word.


“If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work, but you keep refusing to say whether or not you’d sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work — you might have Romnesia.”

Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event — Fairfax, VA,” October 19, 2012

Romnesia, in case it isn’t obvious, is a blend of the name of one-time presidential contender Mitt Romney and amnesia.

Romnesia isn’t Obama’s only coinage. Back in 2009 he said, “”There’s something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-weed up.” No one could really figure out what he meant, although Urban Dictionary has a few interesting theories, such as that “wee-wee” has nothing to do with urine but with the little pig who cried wee-wee-wee, all the way home.

As for the most famous neologism about Obama, Obamacare, that was apparently coined by lobbyist Jeanne Schulte Scott in 2007.

Want more presidential words? You might like Paul Dickson’s Words from the White House: Words Coined or Popularized by America’s Presidents and OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word by Allan Metcalf.

Word Buzz Wednesday: fishball revolution, hypercapnia, wazzock

Food on a stick

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: a revolutionary hashtag, tipsy fish, and an excellent insult.

fishball revolution

“Reports of a crackdown against the hawkers who sell fish balls and other local food delicacies quickly spread on social media along with the hashtag #fishballrevolution.”

Louise Dewast, “Hong Kong ‘Fish Ball Revolution’ Erupts in Violent Crackdown,” ABC News, February 9, 2016

#fishballrevolution joins other revolutionary hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #YesAllWomen, and the 2014 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong known as the #umbrellarevolution.

The fishball revolution protests came as a result of Hong Kong’s “Localist” movement activists defending unlicensed food vendors, whom police were attempting to shut down.


Hypercapnia interferes with neuroreceptors in brains of fish, causing them ‘to become intoxicated,’ the study’s lead author, Dr Ben McNeill of UNSW, said in a statement.”

Olivia Goldhill, “Rising CO2 in the ocean will make fish ‘intoxicated,’ scientists predict,” Quartz, February 8, 2016

A study in Nature found that the concentration of CO2, or carbon dioxide, in some oceanic regions might increase to the point that fish would suffer from hypercapnia, “a build-up of CO2 in the blood,” which causes a kind of drunkenness. As a result, the fish would lose their sense of direction, leaving them unable to locate predators.

The word hypercapnia comes from the Greek hyper-, “over, above, beyond,” and kapnos, “smoke.”

sacred crocodile

“The sacred crocodile is also reportedly more docile than its belligerent Nile cousin, and digs caves in which it shelters.”

Ed Yong, “Natural History Museums Are Teeming with Undiscovered Species,” The Atlantic, February 8, 2016

The sacred crocodile, or Crocodylus suchus, is the second species of the Nile crocodile, previously thought to be just one species. The name was coined by scientist Evon Hekkala, who with her team discovered that the crocodiles used in sacred ceremonies were all C. suchus. Moreover, according to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, “Egyptians selectively used a smaller, tamer crocodile in ceremonies and regarded it as sacred.”

silent disco

“The Swiss city of Lausanne has banned outdoor silent discos, saying that they are too noisy.”

Swiss city bans ‘noisy’ silent discos,” BBC, February 5, 2016

A silent disco is one in which music isn’t played aloud but via headphones. The practice apparently originated in the Netherlands in the early 2000s.

However, it seems, silent discos aren’t immune to noise, at least in one Swiss city where participants can’t help but sing along with the music.


“Donald Trump will be familiar with most abuse but the latest – ‘wazzock’ – might leave him flummoxed.”

Patrick Barham, “Wazzock: the perfect insult to throw at Donald Trump,” The Guardian, January 19, 2016

According to The Guardian, wazzock is “Northern slang for a stupid or annoying chump,” and is what Conservative Member of Parliament Victoria Atkins called Donald Trump during a debate about whether or not to bar the GOP presidential hopeful from Britain. While the term originated in the 1970s, says the Oxford English Dictionary, its origin is largely unknown.

Linguist Ben Zimmer discusses wazzock in more detail with Lexicon Valley.

Word Buzz Wednesday: caucus; coprolite; ZomBee

Bee on the back deck - 2014-04-14

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: the political playoffs; super-old poop; the buzzing dead.


“If you’re nodding your head like ‘yes, of course, the caucus,’ but secretly have no idea what the heck everyone is talking about, this explainer is for you.”

Patrick Allan, “What Are Caucuses and How Do They Work?” Lifehacker, February 1, 2016

Caucuses and primaries, says Lifehacker, are like the NFL playoffs of presidential politics. The general election in November is like the Super Bowl.

In caucuses and primaries, which all states have, party members narrow down their preferences for presidential contenders. While primaries are run by state governments, caucuses are run by state party officials.

So why is the Iowa caucus so important? While it “only accounts for 1% of the total delegates that will be casting their votes at National Conventions,” it’s “the first phase of the presidential race” and “political analysts believe a lot can be determined from just this one state’s caucus results.”

As for where the word caucus comes from, there are a couple of theories. According to Grammar Girl, the word might have come from the Algonquin cau′-cau-as′u, “one who advises, urges, or encourages,” or perhaps the Greek kaukus, “drinking cup.” John Adams formed the Caucus Clubb, a “social and political organization,” in 1763.


“But serious study of coprolites did not begin until the mid-20th century, when researchers at McGill tried to examine Peruvian fecal samples for evidence of parasites.”

Sarah Laskow “To Truly Know an Ancient Society, One Must Analyze Its Feces,” Atlas Obscura, January 28, 2016

Coprolite is fossilized excrement. The word is a combination of copro-, “dung, filth, excrement,” which comes from the Greek kopros, “dung,” and -lite meaning “stone,” which comes from the Greek lithos, “stone.”

night mayor

“To solve this problem, the night mayor suggested not less, but more time for people to go clubbing.”

Feargus O’Sullivan, “A ‘Night Mayor’ Is Transforming Amsterdam After Dark,” CityLab, January 29, 2016

Amsterdam’s night mayor is in charge of the city’s special districts created for “after-dark businesses,” as well as managing and improving “relations between night businesses, residents, and City Hall.” The night mayor concept has also taken off in Paris, Toulouse, and Zurich.


“The most widely used ones fall into two broad classes: weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) and much lighter axions, though there is no shortage of more complex hypotheses that combine various types of particles.”

Sabine Hossenfelder, “The superfluid Universe,” Aeon, February 1, 2016

WIMPs are one of two classes of “so far undetected” particles that make up dark matter, that is, the matter of the Universe that’s invisible.


“But aside from helping a species and an industry, keeping ZomBees in check is a smart move because, seriously, do you want to live in a world with dying, nocturnal bees kamikazeing into your windows and lamps?”

John Metcalfe, “The Zombie Bees Are Here,” The Atlantic, February 2, 2016

ZomBees are so-called because the bees seem to have lost control of their usual functions and behavior, such as not emerging at night or in the cold. The bees are victim to a parasitic fly that injects eggs into their bodies that alter their behavior before bursting Alien-like from the bees’ chests.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Gaian bottleneck, Janus point, nobble


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: explaining the lack of aliens; a backwards bizarro universe; and sabotaging show dogs.


“Science and technology professor Sherry Turkle has emerged as the most high-profile voice among these disconnectionists.”

Nathan Jurgenson, “Fear of Screens,” The New Inquiry, January 25, 2016

According to The New Inquiry, disconnectionists:

see the Internet as having normalized, perhaps even enforced, an unprecedented repression of the authentic self in favor of calculated avatar performance.

In simplest terms, our online selves aren’t our real selves, and we must disconnect from the Internet and perhaps technology in order to regain their true selves. However, one might question if any self we present to the outside world is our “true” self.

Gaian bottleneck

“The paradox of astrobiology is that many planets likely check all the boxes for being habitable for life, but we have yet to discover any. The researchers have named their solution to this paradox the ‘Gaian Bottleneck.’”

Jeva Lange, “Astrobiologists have a new theory for why we haven’t found aliens: They’re all extinct,” The Week, January 21, 2016

The Fermi Paradox, named after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, refers to the conundrum that despite the “extremely high probability” that alien life exists, we have yet to discover a trace of it.

A possible solution to this, suggests Astrobiologists from the Australian National University Research School of Earth Sciences, is what they’re calling the Gaian bottleneck, the idea that “life exists for a brief time on other planets” but goes extinct quickly.

Janus point

“Barbour compares the Janus point to the moment where a river splits in two and flows in opposite directions.”

Olivia Goldhill, “It’s possible that there is a ‘mirror universe’ where time moves backwards, say scientists,” Quartz, January 18, 2016

Physicists from the University of Oxford, the University of New Brunswick, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics propose that after the Big Bang, particles expanded outwards and in “two different temporal directions.” They call the moment before this expansion the Janus point, named for the Roman god of gates and doorways, who is depicted with two faces turned in opposite directions.


“In the manosphere, the red-pill truth is that men are victimized by a contemporary culture that is biased toward the female perspective.”

Rachel Monroe, “From Pickup Artist to Pariah,” New York Magazine, January 2016

The manosphere is a collection of blogs, sub-Reddits, and other sites “inspired” by the 2005 book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.


“‘Nobbling’ is said by some to be common in the fiercely competitive run-up to Crufts, a series of qualifying dog shows, in which the competition and, supposedly, the intrigue is intense.”

Mark Seal, “The Dark Underside of the Show-Dog World,” Vanity Fair, January 31, 2016

In dog show parlance, to nobble is to sabotage a rival dog. The word nobble originated in the 18th century, says the Oxford English Dictionary, and means to strike, hit, or beat up. By the mid-19th century, the word also referred to tampering with a horse or greyhound to keep it from winning a race, and by extension, to harm or injure in general.

Word Buzz Wednesday: Akrasia effect, callosities, spermbots

Whale Watching Hervey Bay Australia by eGuide

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: why you procrastinate; a whale’s white thinger-doodles; and robot sperm to the rescue.

Akrasia effect

 Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment. It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else.”

James Clear, “The Akrasia Effect: Why We Make Plans But Don’t Follow Through,” Lifehacker, January 13, 2016

Akrasia, also spelled acrasia, refers to excess or intemperance, and comes from a Greek word meaning “lack of self-control.” Lifehacker says that the Akrasia effect may be attributed to “time inconsistency,” or “the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.”


“Khan posted some tips and basic terminology for whale identification: the white thinger-doodles are callosities; the nose end of the whale is its bonnet.”

Elizabeth Preston, “Making Facebook for Whales,” The Atlantic, January 14, 2016

On a whale, callosities are a “pattern of whitish markings” on its head which are “key to identifying it,” says The Atlantic. A callosity in general can refer to a callous or a calloused demeanor.


“People whose ancestors never left the continent would not have crossed paths with Neanderthals or the Denisovans, a mysterious group of humans who lived in and around Siberia at the same time.”

Iam Sample, “Human-Neanderthal relationships may be at root of modern allergies,” The Guardian, January 7, 2016

The Denisovans refer to an “extinct grouping of the genus Homo that lived in the Altay Mountains some 41,000 years ago.” They’re named for the Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia, where their remains were first discovered.

parachute kids

“For parachute kids, living in the U.S. is a chance to learn a new language and culture and to escape China’s ultra-competitive college entrance exams.”

Stephen Ceasar and Cindy Chang, “3 teens from China will go to prison for a San Gabriel Valley attack on a classmate,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2016

Like paratroopers dropped off solo into foreign territory, parachute kids are sent overseas without their parents to study in the U.S. A kind of opposite might be helicopter parents who, some might say, spend too much time hovering over their children.


“Now a team of German researchers has invented a ‘spermbot’ that can help sperm swim better to improve couples’ fertility.”

Alexandra Ossola, “Tiny Motors Could Help Slower Sperm Swim to Egg,” Popular Science, January 13, 2016

A spermbot is a kind of nanobot designed to be directed to slow-moving sperm, to fit over the sperm’s tail, and be driven to the egg.

Word Buzz Wednesday: ammosexual, Bowie bonds, super-encounterer

David Bowie - Best Of Bowie

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: people who love people who love guns; David Bowie’s financial legacy; hacking serendipity.


“Meanwhile, in the cities, the 21st century birthed the hipster, the metrosexual, the lumbersexual, the ammosexual and other -sexuals, these labels working to create a taxonomy of everyday types in the manner of 19th-century commentators trying to make sense of rapid social change.”

Paula Young Lee, “Keep your man-child antiheroes: The new crush-worthy guy is the quietly competent, grown-up man,” Salon, January 6, 2016

An ammosexual is “someone who loves firearms in a fetishistic manner.” The word is a blend of ammo, short for ammunition, and the suffix -sexual. It was also a nominee for the American Dialect Society’s word of the year. (The portmanteau came in third.)

auto-brewery syndrome

“Just before Christmas in Hamburg, New York, a judge dismissed the [DUI] charges after being presented with evidence the woman suffers from ‘auto-brewery syndrome.’”

Sandee LaMotte, “Woman claims her body brews alcohol, has DUI charge dismissed,” CNN, January 1, 2016

Auto-brewery syndrome, also known as gut-fermentation syndrome, is a “rare medical condition [which] can occur when abnormal amounts of gastrointestinal yeast convert common food carbohydrates into ethanol.”

blast boxers

“In the meantime, the Army issues two different kinds of protective gear for troops’ nether regions: a synthetic underwear made of silk and a Kevlar plate protecting the groin (soldiers call them ‘blast boxers’ and ‘blast diapers’).”

Joseph Jaafari, “Lab-Grown Testicles Could One Day Help Injured Soldiers Have Kids,” Motherboard, January 7, 2016

Unfortunately, a large number of soldiers don’t wear their blast boxers, a study by the University of Southern California found last year, mostly due to their discomfort.

Bowie bonds

“The pioneering nature of Bowie bonds caught the imagination of all sorts of musicians.”

Tom Espiner, “‘Bowie bonds — the singer’s financial innovation,” BBC, January 11, 2016

These asset-backed securities, dubbed “Bowie bonds” in 1997, “awarded investors a share in [the singer’s] future royalties for 10 years.” By 2004, however, Bowie bonds were downgraded to just one level above “junk,” the lowest rating.


“Most interesting were the ‘super-encounterers,’ who reported that happy surprises popped up wherever they looked.”

Pagan Kennedy, “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity,” The New York Times, January 2, 2016

Super-encounterers, says The New York Times, are so partly because they believe they are. They assume they have “special powers of perception, like an invisible set of antennas,” that will lead them to clues and “finding treasures in the oddest places.”

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