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Monday, August 1, 2011

84. From my Archives: The Battle of the Titans

Orwell said it in 1946 in his much-quoted article, Politics and the English Language: Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way …”

The Australian writer, Don Watson, writing in 2004, expresses a similar concern:
There have been signs of decay in the language of politics and academia for years, but the direct symptoms are in business; and the curse has spread through the pursuit of business models in places that were never businesses. Universities that once valued and defended culture have swallowed the creed whole. Libraries, galleries, and museums, banks and welfare agencies now parrot it. The public sector spouts it as loudly as the private does. It is the language of all levels of government ...

The American language commentator and writing guru, William Zinsser (Writing Well, Writing to Learn and many, many more), accuses White House aide to Tricky Dicky Nixon, John Dean, of one of the most significant achievements in the onslaught that bureaucrats have made on clear, concise English usage.

Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds. New varieties sprout overnight,and by noon they are part of American speech. John Dean holds the record. In just one day of testimony on TV during the Watergate hearings he raised the clutter quotient by 400 per-cent. The next day everyone in America was saying "at this point in time" instead of "now."

But John Dean’s achievements pale to insignificance when compared to the outstanding achievements in this field of Language Slaughter compared to perhaps the world’s two greatest exponents of the mangled sentence, the confused phrasing, and the production of meaningless drivel.

Let’s get the excuses out of the way first. Yes, people in the public spotlight for so much of the time are bound to make the occasional mistake. Often the are exhausted from the long hours they work. And even the most articulate person can say some pretty stupid things at times. These fellows are constantly having to think on their feet, constantly under the pressure of journalists’ probing questions. All of us are guilty of producing malformed sentences and the occasional meaningless comment or three. Is it any wonder these fellows make a few mistakes. AS one of our contestants once said:
When you make as many speeches and you talk as much as I do and you get away from the text, it's always a possibility to get a few words tangled here and there.
Dan Quayle

All of which is true. Except that you would think that, with all the practice they have had, with the minders there to feed them lines, and with ‘idiot cards’ to prompt them, they ought to do better.

Let the Battle of the Language Titans begin!

The contestants are:
In the Blue Corner, the ex-Vice President of America, Mr Dan Quayle.
IN the Ultra-blue corner, the current President of America, Mr George W Bush.
The contest is simple. Each contestant is required to provide at least one entry for each category. As readers, it is your task to decide who wins each of the 22 categories. The overall winner will be the one who wins most categories. Good luck!
And away we go:

The short, sharp phrase involving a newly coined word
Dan Quayle: I stand by all the misstatements that I've made.
George W Bush: They misunderestimate me.

Unconscious Irony
Dan Quayle: People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.
George W Bush: Free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don’t attack each other. Free nations don’t develop weapons of mass destruction.

The ‘I’m a little confused at the moment’ OR The “What on earth did he actually mean” category
Dan Quayle: Let me just tell you how thrilling it really is, and how, what a challenge it is, because in 1988 the question is whether we're going forward to tomorrow or whether we're going to go past to the -- to the back!

George W Bush: In my State of the … my State of the Union, or state … my speech to the nation, or whatever you want to call it, speech to the nation – I asked Americans to give 4000 years … 4000 hours over the next – the rest of your life – of service to America. That’s what I asked – 4000 hours.

Using a rhetorical principle to emphasise a point
Dan Quayle: When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots and the killing in L.A., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.

George W Bush: The war on terror involves Saddam Hussien because of the nature of Saddam Hussien, the history of Saddam Hussien, and his willingness to terrorise himself.

Simplifying issues to their simplest
Dan Quayle: I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change.
George W Bush: I made it clear that it’s important to think beyond the old days of when we had the concept that if we blew each other up, the world would be safe.

Largest number of grammatical errors in the fewest words
Dan Quayle: My friends, no matter how rough the road may be, we can and we will never, never surrender to what is right.
George W Bush: The illiteracy level of our children are appalling. Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?

Succinct words about illiteracy
Dan Quayle: Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.
George W Bush: Teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.

Dan Quayle: The future will be better tomorrow.
George W Bush: I think war is a dangerous place.

Statements of the Obvious … 1
Dan Quayle: A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.
George W Bush: More and more of our imports come from overseas.

Statements of the obvious …2
Dan Quayle: If we do not succeed, then we run the risk of failure.
George W Bush: This is historic times. I think we agree, the past is over.

Self disclosure
Dan Quayle: One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is `to be prepared'.
George W Bush: I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavour for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. I’m also not very analytical. You know I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.

Poetry and imagery
Dan Quayle: Every once in a while, you let a word or phrase out and you want to catch it and bring it back. You can't do that. It's gone, gone forever.
George W Bush: Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dreams.

The importance of emotion
Dan Quayle: The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. I mean in this century's history. But we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century.
George W Bush: There’s only one person who hugs the mothers and the widows, the wives and the kids upon the death of their loved ones. Others hug, but having committed troops, I’ve got an additional responsibility to hug and that’s me and I know what it’s like.

Dan Quayle: If you give a person a fish, they'll fish for a day. But if you train a person to fish, they'll fish for a lifetime.
George W Bush: I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.

Dan Quayle: We're going to have the best-educated American people in the world.
Reading is the basics for all learning.

The Environment
Dan Quayle: It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.
George W Bush: We need a full affront on an energy crisis that is real in California and looms for other parts of our country if we don't move quickly.

Basic Numeracy
Dan Quayle: One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is `to be prepared'.
George W Bush: It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it.

George W Bush: I understand small business growth. I was one

Scientific Research
Dan Quayle: Mars is essentially in the same orbit... Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.
George W. Bush: Natural gas is hemispheric. I like to call it hemispheric in nature because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods.

Dan Quayle: I have made good judgments in the Past.I have made good judgments in the Future.
George W Bush: I think if you know what you believe, it makes it a lot easier to answer questions. I can't answer your question.

Use of Analogy and/or metaphor
Dan Quayle: Votes are like trees, if you are trying to build a forest. If you have more trees than you have forests, then at that point the pollsters will probably say you will win.

George W Bush: It's important for us to explain to our nation that life is important. It's not only life of babies, but it's life of children living in, you know, the dark dungeons of the Internet.

George W Bush: I have said that the sanction regime is like Swiss cheese—that meant that they weren't very effective.

Interesting new word uses
Dan Quayle: Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.
Dan Quayle: We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.

George W Bush: I thought how proud I am to be standing up beside my dad. Never did it occur to me that he would become the gist for cartoonists.

George W Bush: Gov. Bush will not stand for the subsidation of failure.

George W Bush: I've coined new words, like, misunderstanding and Hispanically.

To sum up
Dan Quayle: Public speaking is very easy.
The future will be better tomorrow.
I think we agree, the past is over.

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