Simanaitis Says

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YOU’LL LIKELY KNOW which president said, “Ask not what your country will do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” But who created “lunatic fringe,” “loose cannon,” and “pussyfooter”? Hint: He also invented “bully pulpit.” 

Full marks for recognizing JFK’s inaugural address, and for Teddy Roosevelt’s general verbosity. Here are tidbits on other presidential proclamations from two articles appearing in Voice of America: “Fighting Words: Founding Fathers Irked England by Inventing American English,” December 3, 2022, and “Surprising Words & Phrases Invented by U.S. Presidents,” December 4, 2022.

New English for a New Country.  VOA writes, “The practice of making up new words outraged British purists, some of whom viewed Americans as people without a language who stole England’s mother tongue.”

VOA quotes Paul Dickson, author of Words From The White House: “Some of the first words that the British really went crazy over were the words ‘congressional’ and ‘presidential.’ They said they were barbarous, but those were words we needed.”

Words From The White House: Words and Phrases Coined or Popularized by America’s Presidents, by Paul Dickson, Walker & Company, 2013.

VOA notes, “A key nonpresidential figure who helped codify these new Americanisms was Noah Webster, who published his first dictionary in 1806. Webster fought in the Revolutionary War, which secured America’s independence from England. While wandering through a New York military camp filled with war veterans, he saw the need for a unique American language.”

Noah Webster, Jr., 1758–1843, American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, political writer, member of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

“Noah Webster,” Dickson says, “actually said that creating a new language was an act of defiance.” 

Founding Fatherly Words. George Washington was the first to use “the administration” to describe his Cabinet members. He also coined the term “indoors” in lieu of “within doors.”

This and the following image from VOA.

“Jefferson alone,” VOA notes, “is credited for coming up with more than 100 words, including ‘belittle,’ ‘pedicure,’ ‘monotonously’ and ‘ottoman’ [footstool]. Fittingly, he also invented the verb ‘neologize,’ which is the practice of coining new words or expressions.”

By the way, VOA says, “In the 1920s, President Warren Harding dubbed them the ‘Founding Fathers’ and in doing so, created one of the most memorable and iconic Americanisms of them all.”

Other Presidentialisms. VOA says, “Abraham Lincoln coined the words ‘relocate’ and ‘relocation,’ the metaphor ‘a house divided’ (drawn from the Bible) in reference to the Civil War, and according to The New York Times, the word ‘cool’ [nice, good].”

Truman’s “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is memorable. So is Eisenhower’s warning of “the military-industrial complex.” 

Also, VOA taught me that Franklin Delano Roosevelt used “iffy” for the first time. FDR also changed the “Report to Congress” into the “State of the Union.” It was “President Obama talking about certain projects which were ‘shovel-ready’….”

Dickson says of presidents, ““They often have to think on their feet, and when they think on their feet, sometimes there isn’t an existing word to say what they mean. And they just make one up.”

Like covfefeing Namibia and Zambia into “Nambia”? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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