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What are Bushisms?

By Josie Myers
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term "Bushism" was first coined in 1992 by the writer Jonathan Bines, and applied to President George Herbert Walker Bush's tendency to misspeak during speeches or interviews. The term has since been adopted for use with his son, President George W. Bush, who was even more known for his speaking blunders than his father. During his eight year tenure, there were dozens of occasions when he mispronounced words or uttered phrases with distorted meanings. These statements have become very well known, particularly around the Internet political community.

President Bush's public speaking gaffes began long before he was elected, with many appearing during campaign speeches. A few of the more popular campaign Bushisms were from 2000. Some of the most memorable ones include: "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully," "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family," "I understand small business growth. I was one," and "Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?"

The Bushisms continued throughout his entire time as president of the United States. In 2002, he began to quote a famous proverb only to forget it saying, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." Two years later, he was discussing health care when he said, "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." One of his later quotes came in 2008 when he said, "I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office."

One of the most recognizable Bushisms was his repeated mispronunciation of nuclear as "nucular." Strangely enough, Bush was not the first president to use this pronunciation, nor is it that uncommon. The confusion of the "ular" sound for the "lear" was also heard from Carter, Eisenhower and Clinton, and is in fact found in the Merriam Webster dictionary as an alternate pronunciation.

Bushisms bring up many arguments between Bush's critics and supporters. Some believe that these traits were a purposeful manipulation of the language in order to appear more "down home." Others use them as a tool to claim that President Bush was not a very intelligent man. The President's supporters acknowledge that he was not a good public speaker, and they tend to forgive the Bushisms as a fault that the President was open about.

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