June 22, 2006

"Jacob Weisberg is engaging in cynical manipulation of regional and class prejudice in order to enrich himself."

Language Log looks at "Bushisms." The linguistic expertise is appreciated -- go over there and read why it's "regional and class prejudice" -- but keep reading for the economic analysis:
Amazon.com lists 17 Bushisms products, including at least five book-length collections, yearly quote-a-day calendars, and various special editions ("The Deluxe Election Edition", etc.). Stacks of Bushism-objects for sale are prominently displayed in most bookstores that I visit. This is not a flash in the publishing pan -- it's been going on for almost six years. Maybe someone who knows the publishing industry better than I do can estimate what Weisberg's royalty payments from this enterprise are like, but I'm pretty confident that they're in the same range as what he makes at his day job as editor of Slate. (I'm assuming that the royalties go to Weisberg as author, and not to Slate as the magazine where the Bushisms were originally published -- the copyright pages read "Copyright 200X by Jacob Weisberg")....

[I]sn't there something wrong when a magazine editor, whose job is making judgments about what is and is not worthy of publication, makes much of his income from re-publication of collections of a feature whose instances are so often so spectacularly superfluous? Does anyone think that Jacob Weisberg would consider very many of these "Bushisms" worth the space in his (excellent) magazine and the attention of his readers (which include me), if he wasn't making money from George W. Bushisms, Still More George W. Bushisms, ..., George W. Bushisms V, Bushisms 2006 Day to Day Calendar, etc.; and if he didn't foresee the need to fill the pages of George W. Bushisms VI, the Bushisms 2008 Day to Day Calendar, and on and on? and if he didn't have a personal financial motivation for keeping the Bushisms brand and the Bushisms product line in the public eye?
These are very challenging questions for Weisberg!


jeff said...

Can President Bush sue for licensing fees?

Randy said...

Challenging questions indeed! Cynic that I am, I doubt that Weisberg will answer them.

JackTanner said...

Last I heard it was a free country. I'm sure he'll take those concerns very seriously while on his way to the bank.

Icepick said...

Okay, if Weisberg is making significant money from the resale of his "Bushisms" work, doesn't that indicate a market for them, regardless of whether or not any given set (or even all) of the "Bushisms" hold up to examination? As a magazine editor, shouldn't that be a sign that he should keep publishing them, precisely because they do sell?

Steven Brett said...

[to Icepick]

I think the question isn'r so much whether he should publish them (whether they "hold up to examination" or not), but instead whether that money has the potential to affect his judgment and fairness (or perceived fairness) as an editor.

It is a conflict of interest; it creates a possible perception of bias or delf-interest.

Steven Brett said...

Excuse the typing, please.

Bruce Hayden said...

Of course the fact that he makes money on them affects his judgment. The President obviously has some language problems. He even tacitly admits it, through poking fun at some of his sayings.

But there is not nearly enough really egregious examples for even one book on this subject, and he has several out now.

The "Bushism" that the author was pointing at, and that Eugene Volokh took to task, "Let's Don't" definately has a regional bias. I heard it routinely when I lived in Austin. Since then, not nearly as often. But then, where was Bush when he was governor? Made most of his money? etc.

Icepick said...


Any editor that has side interests will always have this problem. Does (or did) all of Mort Kondrake's TV appearances make a difference in what he has (or hasn't) decided to publish? I don't see why this is that different, other than that the money trail is more clearly discerned.

But again, if this stuff sells, doesn't that indicate a somewhat devoted audience? If it has such an audience, why wouldn't an editor keep publishing them in his magazine? It's just a bit of fluff that sells, not a truely hardcore news item.

I guess I just don't get it....

Gordon Freece said...

"...cynical manipulation of regional and class prejudice..."

At this point in history, regional and class prejudice is very nearly the entire content of liberal political thought.

It's nothing to me if one bozo makes a fast buck out of it. That's really the least of our worries.

Gordon Freece said...

Er, make that "...regional and class prejudice are very nearly...".

Let's dont mind is our children educated; is our adults?

Chris said...

Let's just see it as a relatively harmless way for Bush-haters to blow off steam & nurture their feelings of superiority. And Weisberg gets rich off the object of his derision....everybody wins!

Steven Brett said...

[to Icepick]

I think you have a valid point, and I am not sure that it is a huge problem. I do think that he should get out in front of this and be as candid as possible if he wants to avoid the perception of a problem.

I think that the perception issue is probably as important, if not moreso, that the actual threat to his independence.

Beth said...

The Language Log post doesn't establish class prejudice; it links the usage of "let's don't" to some southerners, and offers other examples whose region can't be established. It's not enough to get that thesis published, certainly.

That folksy speech didn't come out of Bush's years at Andover, in Connecticut, and various Washington, diplomatic and CIA postings, nor from George pere and Babs, but it sure has gone a long way in building him an appealing image as a regular guy, which he is plainly is not. So who's cynically manipulating class and region? Let's don't fool ourselves. That facade has done Bush well, so I can't resent anyone else making some bucks from it.

By the way, as I think I've mentioned before, our Anglo-Saxon language forbears made liberal use of these emphatic negatives. "Let's don't" fits squarely with that practice of making sure the listener knows exactly how much negativity the speaker means to convey. That it continues in Southern speech is possibly due to patterns of immigration and associated dialects. Language Log finds examples of "let's don't" in Louisiana; that's likely north Louisiana, not the Southern, French-settled part.

retired randy said...

I recieved a Bushism day calendar for a gift at christmas. As I thumbed thru it, I found it only made me feel angry that such a country bumpkin could possibly be president of the greatest country on earth. January 1, 2006 still graces the front cover .

Randy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Synova said...

Sounds like sour grapes that he didn't think of it first.

I don't know what the problem is, really. Someone used the word "expectable" in a comment some weeks ago and it just made me smile... not derisively either.

It's fun, and interesting. Sorta like Tycho's nose.

Synova said...

As for the other... last election I heard someone say (so this is *really* reliable) that Bush only lost one election and his opponent prevailed by branding him an intellectual snob and out of touch.

So he fixed that.

He's not stupid. I don't think his "down home" stuff is a put on, precisely, and I'd be hard pressed to think his creative use of language is calculated, but I do think it highly likely that he relaxed about his public persona.

I guess I think it's more likely that he *stopped* trying to project an intellectual, sophisticated image than it is that he *started* trying to sound like a bumpkin.

Some people hate it like mad, but other people vote for him.

J. Cricket said...

Chris: Did someone say "feelings of superiority"? Hey, that could be the new tag line to this Blog!

To the Right Wing: I know these Bushisms are painful to read. Hey, I've got an idea. Let's blame the messenger. Yeah, it's also Jacob Weisberg's fault!!


Synova said...

I'll have to read through again and see who said it was Weisberg's fault.

Hm... okay maybe I have to go read the article.

I don't find Bushisms painful. Funny sometimes, sure. Sometimes it's okay to laugh a little bit. The person in the comments who seems the least able to do that is retired randy. He'll have to speak for himself, but I don't see any reason to assume he's "right wing."

Gordon Freece said...


I heard a funny theory (from a linguist, by chance): She suggested that Bush isn't actually stupid at all; he just pretends to be a Texan!

Here's how far left she is: The punch line is that she wasn't joking. (If she were, I'd know; she's family.)


Class prejudice looks like a reasonable inference to me. Go back and read Ted Rall's bizarre hissy fits from November 2004. Or talk to anybody I went to college with, or any of my neighbors in Massachusetts. In a lot of Nice Coastal People's minds, if not most, Southern == Poor == Stupid. That flavor of bigotry is ubiquitous in the Northeast. It's hard to believe that anybody in the US is unaware of this.


If still don't get it after reading the Language Log post (or attempting to), you're not in an ideal position to poke fun at anybody else's grasp of the English language.

Robert said...

Elizabeth, you're confusing Bush with his father. Bush II did attend Andover, but did not have Washington postings or CIA jobs. He spent his childhood in Texas, and most of his adulthood was spent there as well. If he spoke with an Eastern prep-school tone, THAT would be an affectation; his good-old-boy persona is pretty much what we would expect of someone who was raised in Texas.

Palladian said...

"I recieved a Bushism day calendar for a gift at christmas. As I thumbed thru it, I found it only made me feel angry that such a country bumpkin could possibly be president of the greatest country on earth. January 1, 2006 still graces the front cover."

Yes, we don't want any of those country folks in high office! Abraham Lincoln? George Washington? Country bumpkins, both! Better to stick to them thar northeastern city folk. And since you seem to like to live in the past, why fix time at 1/1/2006? Go on eBay and find an old calendar from the late 70s and you can stay in that happy, peaceful time forever, when Carter... oops! That's out. MAJOR BUMPKIN!

Back on planet Earth:

Since we're talking about language and precision, may I ask if anyone else find the word "wingnut" (used to refer to people that are perceived by the speaker to be "right wing") annoyingly imprecise? I suppose the derivation to be from "right wing nut", but shortening it to "wing nut" effectively strips it of specificity. Perhaps it is meant to connote brainless partisans of either left- or right-wing derivation, but there are better terms out there for that. Are "wingnuts" bad? They're quite useful actually, no tools required! And whether you turn them left or right, either way you're screwed.

Gahrie said...

"anyone else find the word "wingnut" (used to refer to people that are perceived by the speaker to be "right wing") annoyingly imprecise?"

Not really. Anyone who spends any serious time on the web knows that "wingnuts" is a derisive term for the right, and "moonbat" is a derisive term for the left.

One of the major characteristics of those who use the web frequently is a tendency to make things as concise as possible.

John in Nashville said...

What is the biggest difference between George W. Bush and God?

God doesn't think He's George W. Bush.

What is the biggest difference between our blog hostess and God?

God doesn't think W. is God.

knox said...

...yeah, c'mon, everybody knows


get with the program!

Synova said...

Wingnut is also (or at least used to be) slang for a person in the Air Force.

I had to go back and change it to "zoomie" in a script I'm writing because I realized it wouldn't work anymore.

Beth said...

P., my reading skills are fine. The Language Log entry focuses on region, not class. And using Bush as an example of class prejudice is ludicrous. I'm a Southerner, and I talk like one, so I'm very familiar with the prejudice you speak of. I once had a Massachusetts native say to me, "You're from the south? But you're so literate!" So, stuff your insults, who doncha.

Robert, I'm not confusing the Bushes. Yes, W spent more time in Texas, but he's also a product of his Eastern family. He's been present for his father's government service, and during some of those travels. He wasn't raised down at the Piggly Wiggly and the Dollar Mart. Get real.