The Grammarphobia Blog

Our neologists in chief

Q: When you were on the Leonard Lopate Show recently, you mentioned some presidential neologisms. Could you post the whole list to The Grammarphobia Blog?

A: Here are some of the words and phrases that American presidents have popularized or introduced into English:

Washington: “indoors,” “non-discrimination,” “off-duty,” “paroled,” “reconnoiter,” “bakery,” “average” (the verb), “ravine,” “rehire,” and “hatchet-man” (a pioneer, not a thug).

Jefferson: “lengthily,” “belittle,” “public relations,” “electioneering,” “indecipherable,” “monotonously,” “ottoman” (the footstool, not the empire), “pedicure,” and the noun “bid.” He even invented the word for inventing a word: “neologize.”

John Adams: popularized “caucus” and introduced “lengthy,” “bobolink,” “quixotic,” “spec” (short for “speculation”), and the verb “net” in the financial sense.

James Madison: “squatter.”

Abraham Lincoln: “relocate,” “relocation,” and “point well taken.”

Theodore Roosevelt: popularized “muckraker” and introduced “lunatic fringe” and “bully pulpit.”

Warren G. Harding: revived two older words, “bloviate” and “normalcy.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt: “cheerleader.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower: “military-industrial complex.”

Will Barack Obama contribute to this list? I wouldn’t misunderestimate him.

PS: President Harding was an infamous bloviator himself. In a blog item a couple of years ago about the origin of “bloviate,” I quoted H. L. Mencken’s colorful description of Harding’s oratory:

“It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm (I was about to write abscess!) of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash. But I grow lyrical.”

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