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.

administration

“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.

neologize

“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.

OK

“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.

normalcy

“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.

iffy

“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.

Romnesia

“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.

The Wordnik 2015 Word Nerd Gift Guide

Is there a logophile on your holiday gift list? Give the best wordy presents ever with our 2015 Word Nerd Gift Guide.

Swag

Everyone loves a Chomsky Party, and even colorless green tea tastes better out of a Chomsky Party mug.

chomskymugIf your loved linguist didn’t choose the wug life, but the wug life chose them, let them show it with wug shirts. You can also help them have less stress in their life with a schwa t-shirt! Or you might want to liven up their vocabulary (terminology, lexicon, or phraseology) with a shirt featuring everyone’s favorite wordy dinosaur, the Thesaurus. thesaurus_1272x920shirt_guys_02

Subscriptions

For lovers of American English, you can’t go wrong with a subscription to the online version of the Dictionary of American Regional Englishand it’s 50% off through January 3rd!

Another gift that keeps giving all year long is a subscription to long-form popular linguistics writing mag SchwaFire: recent articles have covered ASL translation, Yiddish, and “accent tag” videos.

Books

This year was a great one for language books. Some highlights included:

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

A copy editor who has put in more than three decades at The New Yorker, Norris explains some of the most common problems with spelling, punctuation, and usage, drawing on examples not just from classic literature such as Charles Dickens and Emily Dickinson, but from the likes of The Honeymooners and The Simpsons as well.

From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations, by Allan Metcalf

The latest from one of our favorite Chronicle of Higher Education writers and the author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word. From bobbysoxing Silents to whatever Gen X’ers, From Skedaddle explores the words that encapsulate and characterize whole generations.

The Art of Language Invention, by David J. Peterson

The creator of Dothraki? A history of constructed languages? ‘Nuff said.

Bullshit: A Lexicon, by Mark Peters

Also known as @wordlust, Peters has long been one of our favorite word nerds. His latest book delves into all the different ways of saying balderdash, hooey, and bunk.

Words

And of course, our favorite gift: giving a favorite word at Wordnik!

How to Celebrate Dictionary Day

764px-Noah_Webster_The_Schoolmaster_of_the_Republic

American English didn’t always have its own dictionary. At first the reference books were imported from England, says the Daniel Boone Regional Library, and when the first dictionary that included “new words, peculiar to the United States” was published in 1800, linguists panned it, considering American English “barbarous.”

Yet one American named Noah Webster was determined “to produce American standards of good usage,” and in 1806, he published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The next edition, An American Dictionary of the English Language, took a little while to complete: 26 years to be exact.

To honor what’s considered the first major American English dictionary and the man behind it, lexicographers and word lovers celebrate Dictionary Day every October 16, which also happens to be Webster’s birthday.

There are myriad word-nerdy ways to kick up your linguistic heels. As our founder Erin McKean jokingly suggests, you can place your dictionary stand (everyone has one, right?) “by the hearthstone,” hoping that Noah himself magically comes down the chimney and leaves you “a shiny new dictionary” (the Assistance League of Los Gatos-Saratoga in California did just that for underprivileged kids, only without the hearthstones).

You can also make like Mr. Verb and fete a favorite tome such as the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). If food and words pique your appetite, you can follow suit with Feast and Phrase who will be “exploring food in the world of words” and making delicious “gastrolexical discoveries.”

Like Hugo of Helsinki you might take the day to update your “New to me” word list, or like teacher Michelle Jewett go out of your way to partake in education. For Michaela Lee, Dictionary Day will be all fun and games, and for Brian Krisch a day of doodling. Meanwhile, Non Talbot Wels is going to be, as always, “standing up to censorious twits.” Rock on.

Also consider a Dictionary Day-Halloween mash up like lexicographer Toma Tasovac who apparently will be “dressing up as Samuel Johnson and randomly accosting senior citizens for looking up naughty words” (pictures, Toma, or it didn’t happen), although we’re sure the Strong Language blog would be there to defend those raunchy retirees.

(Ir)regardless, you’ll want to heed Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre and learn a thing or two about the differences between different dictionaries (in other words, there’s no such thing as THE DICTIONARY), what dictionary compilers actually do (they’re “not bouncers but custodians”), and while you’re at it, take your favorite lexicographer out to lunch (please, though, no alphabet soup).

If you’re a total Noah Webster-fan person, you can visit his birthplace and childhood home in West Hartford, Connecticut, where, by the way, the original copy of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary with notations by Webster is currently on display (cue lexiphilic heads exploding everywhere).

But, as Erin suggests, Dictionary Day isn’t necessarily about celebrating the physical book itself but the words inside, regardless of the container. So you might want to revel in your favorite word by tweeting it over at HaggardHawks Words all month! (Why not consider giving it a home for a whole year?)

How will you be celebrating Dictionary Day?

Adopt a Mother’s Day Word

Mum

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and what better way to honor Mom than by adopting a word in her name? And to further the maternal celebration, from today through Sunday, May 10, we’re letting you name the price for any unadopted, mother-esque word.

You might already be familiar with our Adopt the Word program, in which for just $50 you can “own” a word for a year. Plus your name and Twitter handle will appear on that word page, and you’ll get a downloadable certificate, suitable for framing (and giving).

Over 200 words so far have found loving homes, but that still leaves lots of “orphan” words. Each day we feature one special orphan, which, instead of the usual $50, you can pay any price for. Take a look at all the orphan words still in need of adopters.

Now what about those mother words? There’s mother of course, which we can hardly believe is still motherless, and other mother monikers like ma, mama, and mommy; mum and mummy, if you’re British; mudder, if you’re from Brooklyn; and the American-as-apple-pie mom.

Or you may want to honor the mom-like figure in your life, such as your stepmother; mother-in-law (once known as good-mother); your aunt, auntie, tia, and tante; or your grandmother, grandma, gram, granny, grandam, nana, or oma. You might also want to give a shout-out to all the nannies, amahs, au pairs, governesses, and other professional caretakers out there.

Symbolic mothers deserve love too, like Mother Earth, the motherland, and the mothership. Or you might prefer mom-in-charge terms like matriarchy, a community governed by women; matrilineage, line of descent through the mother’s side; materfamilias, a woman who’s head of a household; and mother-right, “alleged supremacy of the mother in the primitive family and clan.”

Another word for babytalk? That’s motherese. Innate intelligence or common sense? Mother wit of course. A mother’s love? Well, mother-love. Or perhaps you’d like to give some lovely mother-of-pearl, mother-of-emerald, or mother of amethyst.

For even more orphan mother words to adopt, check out these mummy dearest words, this mother of a list, and these motherhoodish neologisms.

Happy Mother’s Day words and happy adopting!

[Photo via Flickr: “Mum,” CC BY 2.0 by Jonathan Rolande/HouseBuyFast.co.uk]

Happy Mardi Gras! Everyone Loves Parade Words

Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Pet Parade, Shreveport, LA

Happy Fat Tuesday! This is your last chance before Lent to partake in revelry and debauchery — or if you don’t practice Lent, just another excuse to revel and debauch.

Today’s post is more festive than depraved as we delve into nine parade words, from the disapproving — and noisy — French, to secret New Orleans societies, to centuries-old folk traditions in the U.S.

callithump

“You probably don’t know what callithump is, but you will find out if you undertake to hoe sod-ground potatoes in July. It has something to do with brazen trumpets and violence.”

Albert Bigelow Paine, Dwellers in Arcady: The Story of an Abandoned Farm, 1919

A callithump is a parade of the “somewhat riotous” vein, accompanied by “the blowing of tin horns, and other discordant noises.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary says the word originated around 1836 as a U.S. colloquialism and “fanciful construction.” Callithump or callithumpian probably plays off Gallithumpians, a “Dorset and Devon word” from the 1790s for “a society of radical social reformers, and also in reference to ‘noisy disturbers of elections and meetings.’”

The American English sense commonly refers to “’a band of discordant instruments’ or bangers on pots and pans, especially to ‘serenade’ a newlywed couple to show disapproval of one or the other or the match.”

cavalcade

“‘But does your foolish old hen suppose that this entire cavalcade, which is bound on an important adventure, is going to stand still while she lays her egg?’ enquired the Tin Woodman, earnestly.”

Frank Baum, Ozma of Oz, 1907

A cavalcade is a procession of people on horseback, as well as “a formal, pompous march of horsemen by way of parade.” The word is an old one, from the 1590s, and comes from the Italian cavalcare, “to ride on horseback.”

In the early 20th century, -cade came to be known as a suffix meaning “procession” or “display, and gave rise to words such as motorcade, autocade, and aquacade.

charivari

“The popping of revolvers, the clanging of cow bells, the clash of tin boilers–all that medley of discord which lends volume to the horror known as a charivari–tore to shreds the harmony of the night.”

William MacLeod Raine, A Man Four-Square, 1909

A charivari is pretty much just like a callithump, that is “a mock serenade of discordant noises, made with kettles, tin horns, etc., designed to annoy and insult” newlywed couples busybody neighbors don’t approve of, such as “an older widower and much younger woman, or the too early remarriage by a widow or widower.”

Charivari, which literally means “rough music,” is older than callithump by about a hundred years. While French in origin, charivari ultimately comes from the Greek karebaria, meaning “headache.” An alteration is shivaree, which originated in the U.S. in 1843.

fanfaron

“Calling him an old blower and bloat, a gas-bag and fanfaron, a Gascon and a carajo, alma miserabile, and a pudding-head…and a darned old hoffmagander…the divil’s blissing an him!”

Chronicles of Secessia,” Continental Monthly, Vol. I. February, 1862, No. II.

A fanfaron is a bully or boaster, as well as a noisy or ostentatious parade. The Online Etymology Dictionary says fanfaron came from French into English in the 1670s, and like the word fanfare, comes from the French fanfarer, “blow a fanfare,” which may be borrowed from the Arabic farfar, “chatter.”

junkanoo

“At a time when Junkanoo is fighting for its survival, we believe that to limit the exposure of Junkanoo to potential spectators, and indeed the world, in this manner is counter-productive.”

Rashad Rolle, “Junkanoo Cut to a Single Lap,” Tribune242, December 31, 2014

A junkanoo is a parade commonly held in the Bahamas on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

The word and practice might be based on John Canoe, which, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), stems from the West Indies and refers to “the chief dancer, or one of several dancers, in a Christmas celebration”; any masks or structures worn by the dancer; or the celebration itself.

John Canoe first appears in English in 1774: “The masquerader..dances at every door, bellowing out John Connú!”

krewe

“Each parade is run by a krewe, a volunteer group whose membership dues make the parade happen.”

Kenny Klein, “Krewe Of Muses: Mardi Gras Parades Explained!” The Huffington Post, May 3, 2015

A krewe is “any of several groups with hereditary membership whose members organize and participate as costumed paraders in the annual Mardi Gras carnival.”

The word, an alternation of crew, comes from the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the first of such groups, which was established in 1857. (Mistick is an alteration of mystic while Comus is the Greek god of festivity.) Other such “krewes” formed shortly afterwards, including the the Krewe of Rex, the Knights of Momus, and the Krewe of Proteus.

The first known use of krewe to refer to this type of group in general was in 1936, says Merriam-Webster.

Mummers Parade

“It is a very methodical madness, however, for the chief participants in this great annual festival Philadelphia — which is known as the New Year Mummers’ Parade — begin their preparations for the following year as soon as the sun sets on scene of gaiety.”

H.R. Jones, “A New Year Parade,” The Wide World Magazine, January 1904

The Mummers Parade is a New Year’s Day tradition specific to Philadelphia and believed to be “the nation’s oldest folk festival,” says NBC. The practice blends immigrant traditions from Scandinavia, England, Wales, and Germany, and after the Civil War, African American residents who arrived in Philadelphia “added the signature strut along with ‘Oh! Dem Golden Slippers,’ the parade’s theme song.”

The Mummers Parade is related to the mummers’ play, an English Christmas tradition. The mummers’ play, says the OED, is a traditional play performed by mummers during major holidays. While the practice is from the 18th century, the term “appears to be the invention of 19th-cent. folklorists.”

parade of horribles

“That expression, ‘parade of horribles,’ has special resonance in the legal world, typically as a put-down used by one side in a dispute to dismiss opponents’ concerns about a ruling’s negative effects.”

Ben Zimmer, “Where did the Supreme Court get its ‘parade of horribles’?” The Boston Globe, July 1, 2012

Like the Mummers Parade, the parade of horribles is an American folk tradition, this one originating in New England in the 19th century and involving a procession of people “wearing comic and grotesque costumes” on the Fourth of July.

According to Ben Zimmer, the term parade of horribles is a play on “the ancients and honorables,” a colloquial name for “the country’s oldest military organization, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, chartered in 1638.” The ancients and honorables would “parade around in uniform,” an ostentatious display that was “ripe for satire.”

Parade of horribles is also a rhetorical device in which a speaker argues “against taking a certain course of action by listing a number of extremely undesirable events which will ostensibly result from the action.”

[Photo via Flickr: “Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Pet Parade, Shreveport, LA,” CC BY 2.0 by Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau]

Holiday Food Words: Eggnog, A Riot of a Word

Homemade Eggnog 3

Happy Christmas, fellow Wordniks! Today we wrap up our little series on some of our favorite holiday food words. Our final installment, that holiday grog of champions: eggnog.

The origins of both the drink eggnog and the word are unclear. Some say the beverage originated from the 14th century English posset, although posset, while milky, spicy and spiked, doesn’t contain any actual eggs.

As for the word eggnog, the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1825: “The egg-nog..had gone about rather freely.” However, both Barry Popik and the Online Etymology Dictionary say eggnog is from at least the 1770s. CNN also states the “late 18th century” is the first recorded instance of the term eggnog and even claims that George Washington himself had a recipe.

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This genius was hospitalized after “winning” an eggnog chugging contest.

While the egg part of eggnog comes from, well, egg, the nog part is less straightforward. While it originated in the early 1690s and refers to a strong type of beer brewed in Norfolk, England, so say both the OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s not clear where the word came from. Nug is a possibility, as is noggin, a small cup or mug. By the way, noggin meaning “head” came about in 1769, says the OED, originating from boxing slang.

Finally, think eggnog isn’t anything to get up in arms about? Think again. The Eggnog Riot of 1826, also known as the Grog Mutiny, occurred at the West Point military academy over the course of two days.

What began as a Christmas Day party escalated into destructive drunkenness as cadets downed whiskey-laden eggnog, broken windows, and fired weapons willy-nilly,  (which just goes to show white people have been rioting over dumb stuff for a long time). One of the rioters was none other than Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America.

In case you missed it, check out our posts on clementines, Dundee cake, and panettone.

[Photo via Flickr, “Eggnog,” CC BY 2.0 by Natalie Maynor]

Holiday Food Words: Panettone (Not Bread of Toni)

panettone

Merry Christmas Eve! Welcome to our third and penultimate installment of our mini-series on holiday foods and their origins, linguistic and otherwise.

You’ve already learned about the darling clementine and the Scottish Dundee cake. Today we’re looking at a baked good of the Italian variety: panettone.

You know panettone as those ubiquitous boxes of sweet bread you see piled up pyramid-high in grocery stores. You’ve probably given them and gotten as gifts. But do you know where it comes from?

While Wikipedia says the bread originated in the early 20th century (by “two enterprising Milanese bakers”), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the Italian panettone, or “fruited loaf,” as coming from Milan in 1831. The earliest recorded usage in English is from 1865: “Biffi Paolo,..Milan.—Panattone (pastry); various kinds of liqueurs.”

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the bread gained popularity. In 1919, entrepreneur Angelo Motta changed the traditional recipe by “making the dough rise three times,” which gave the bread its now well-known domed shape. A few years later, another baker, Gioacchino Alemagna, adapted the recipe and sold the bread under his own brand. It was the competition between Motta and Alemagna that “led to industrial production of the cake.”

There are a few myths about the origin of the word. One says that panettone derives from the Milanese pan del ton, “cake of luxury.” Another, our favorite, claims it translates as “bread of Toni.”

The Toni in question was a 15th-century Milanese baker with a beautiful daughter. A nobleman was in love with said daughter, and decided to help her by way of her father by posing as a baker and promptly inventing this rich and delicious bread, the bread of Toni. The nobleman married the daughter, and even Leonardo da Vinci was there to give his blessing to the “Pan de Toni.”

The actual origin of the word panettone is far less exciting: it’s an augmentative of the Italian panetto, “small loaf,” which is a diminutive of pane, “bread.” Pane comes from the Latin panis, “bread.” Panem et circuses, also Latin, translates as “bread and circuses” and refers to “offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.”

The Hunger Games’ trilogy takes place in the nation of Panem, where gruesome “games” are held to distract the population from huge class divisions and its totalitarian government. Peeta Mellark, the protagonist’s love interest, is a baker’s son.

[Photo via Flickr, “Homemade Panettone,” CC BY 2.0 by Nicola]