In 2003, President George W. Bush delivered a State of the Union speech in which he described the US’ campaign against Iraq. It was a little bit of a “Mission Accomplished” moment, as you can see, but the interesting thing about it to me is the color-coding. Bush, a far less intelligent man than Clinton by virtually all accounts, uses higher level words. Why?
Here is a color-coded transcript of part of Bush’s State of the Union address he gave in 2003. Level I words are coded in red (for “home fires,” as in “keep the home fires burning”) and Level II words are coded in cool, intellectual blue. The red words are Germanic in origin. The blue ones are French.
My belief is that Bush, conscious of the fact that virtually no one thinks he is very bright–or has thought so his entire life–is upgrading his rhetoric to French-derived words in an effort to seem smart. It’s sort of like Rick Perry and the glasses–Bush thinks if he uses relatively longer words, or “official” words, he will sound like an intelligent man. This is a common mistake of bureaucrats.
Bush, or his speechwriters used these “long words” to give the impression that he knew what he was talking about, that he was in a position of official power (which of course he was). As we now know, Bush’s words, which were calculated to reassure us of his intelligence and power, have a hollow and ironic ring to them today. It was not a humane war (using depleted plutonium weapons in Fallujah, for example, was anything but humane). The training camps were not destroyed. Iraq had not defied the United Nations Security Council. His fancy words cannot hide, now, that the Iraq war was built on a tissue of official-sounding lies.
3 thoughts on “Levels of Language in George W. Bush rhetoric”
My first reaction on reading this was that, rather than an effort by Bush to sound more intelligent, that he was sharing the words of a carefully written speech, written by those who had been given a particular mandate. In fact, Bush is quite bright (regardless of your feelings of the results of his choices) but this sounds like a very carefully vetted speech.
Unfortunately, with these words and similar speeches he succeeded to be re-elected for other 4 years and he convinced people to follow him to war looking for the never found mass destruction weapons 😦
Exactly correct. His words convinced people that he knew something and was smart on the subject of Iraq. The opposite was the truth, of course. He is a man of rather low intelligence who was easily led by his vice-president and a group called neo-conservatives, whose aim was to subjugate the Middle East and take its oil.
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