John Boehner (L) and Eric Cantor

Why do so many politicians these days refer to people as “folks?” What does it mean for a candidate to get “Cantored?” And what exactly is a “Washington Handshake?” In his new book, journalist David Mark answers those questions and shares today’s most revealing examples of political jargon and slang. What are your most cringe-worthy examples of Beltway blather?

David Mark, editor-in-chief of Politix, an online community focusing on national politics, and author of books including "Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech," which he co-authored with Chuck McCutcheon

  • Harry Wiener

    My most cringe worthy current political phrase is: Jobless Recovery. Please stop using this phrase.

    • Bill_Woods

      Uh, why? An achingly slow recovery of employment has been a feature of the last three recessions.

  • Whamadoodle

    God–TELL me about it, with this “folks” stuff. They have to knock that off, already. If you’re my representative, you’re not “folks,” and neither am I.

    And I love the guest’s mention of “conversation” as a fake. Yes, when a politician says “we need to have a conversation about that,” it means simply either “we’re all going to live, die, and leave mossy headstones before we EVER move forward on this,” or “GOD, I wish this issue would go away.”

  • Ben Rawner

    My favorite term is “war on terror”. It means nothing and easily adaptable to all those who our government does not agree with. Also ObamaCare versus affordable care act. Same thing but polls way different. Do these polls help shape the language or is it vice versa?

  • Bill_Woods

    “San Francisco Democrats” goes back to the 1984 election, when the Democratic convention was held in SF.

  • Steve

    One phrase used by both Presidents Bush and Obama that drives me up the wall is “make no mistake”.

    • Whamadoodle

      Yeah–who decided we all love that so much? You can just see the speechwriters and coaches droning robotically, “must… make… alliteration…”

    • Robert Thomas

      You’d think that any competent English B.A. speechwriter would scrub a text of that drab cliché.

      At least I’ve never heard a president use the abominable, stuttering variant, “make no mistake about…”.

      Or “…regardless of whether or not…”
      Or “…still matters more than ever…”

  • Maggie

    Can you ask your guest which politician predominantly started the trend of referring to “American exceptionalism”? It’s certainly not an exceptional phrase.

  • Chris OConnell

    I am offended by the President, every President over these past 10 or 20 years, ending speeches with “God Bless the United States of America.” Of course, even as a non-believer my thought is: “oh and how we need it since we are doing something wrong again!”

  • Daniel Lindholm

    “Shellacked”. How did a wood finish get used as a euphemism for taking a beating? Not even when you apply shellac does anything get damaged?

    • Whamadoodle

      THANK you. Good question!

  • Bob

    As a student of jargon, I note the current practice of prefacing every other statement with “look” or “listen.” It’s use bestows the speaker with the voice of authority and acts to end debate but it comes across as peevish, condescending, and aggressive.

    It follows other now passé phrases such as “clearly,” “the bottom line is” and “at the end of the day.”

  • winjas

    Oh God, if I hear the disingenuous more time. Just say liar!

  • Robert Thomas

    An “insurgent” is one who rebels against a legitimate authority.

    There hasn’t been a legitimate authority in Mesopotamia for seven thousand years.

    The national media swallowed and enthusiastically regurgitated this odious word that the George W. Bush administration used as a euphemism for anyone who defended their own land against an uninvited armed invader and that invader’s collaborators.

    Ten years ago, I counted one journalist’s use of “insurgent” seven times in one sentence.

    Political figures have used flatulent rhetorical flourishes since long before the advent of the United States.

    What chafes more is the way media relishes adopting and amplifying them.

    • Whamadoodle

      Well, I hate to go straight for the old “What Would the Native Americans Say,” but by that measure, our own government wouldn’t be a legitimate authority for them either. However, there are certain American laws they must obey.

      The Ottoman Empire, the Abbasid Caliphate, etc., were never the “legitimate authority” there? (Note, before you claim that they were all “uninvited armed invaders”–which at FIRST, of course, most rulers there were–the Ottomans were rulers who enjoyed the trust even of minorities under their rule, such as the Jewish refugees from Spain who settled there from the end of the 15th century, let alone their local co-religionists, until the Empire started unravelling in its last couple of centuries.) What could make ANYONE legitimate rulers, by your measure?

      • Robert Thomas

        Whamadoodle, I applaud your ambition to curb invocation of supposed North American Aboriginal wisdom. “One Day at a Time”, I believe Twelve-Step adherents will say.

        Seriously, I take your point in the question about “legitimacy”, here.

        I have thought about this for some time, and came to the conclusion about the fatuousness of “insurgent” several years ago.

        What is a legitimate authority? I guess it’s authority that serves those governed with their unbullied consent. I’m not a historian. But I look at the Ba’athists and coup-installed strongmen and Hashemites and Euro-puppets who’ve ruled Iraq the last century and don’t see any legitimacy, by that definition. American Indian people in the U.S. are entitled to the franchise, at least.

        The Ottomans? Mongols? Medes? Parthians, Seleucids, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Babylonians… Sumer? Uruk? (I think these are probably out of order.) I’m unaware of any of these achieving notoriety for their having sought consent of those they ruled. If any did, I think it was probably short lived.

        I don’t mean to claim that classical and ancient civilizations should be criticized this way in comparison to modern Western democracies – that’s unfair. But there are a few places on Earth where people have enjoyed a long-lived unbroken culture and have also resisted any attempt to concede to any democratic sentiment. Iraq, until the election of Nouri al-Maliki, was one of them. Maybe their next choice will be a charmed one.

        • Robert Thomas

          I should add that while al-Malaki’s government had severed puppet strings hanging all over it and was an arrogant, bumbling mess, it qualifies as a genuine attempt at democratic legitimacy.

        • Whamadoodle

          Hm. Well when I mentioned “the Ottomans were rulers who enjoyed the trust even of minorities under their rule, such as the Jewish refugees from Spain who settled there from the end of the 15th century,” I didn’t just pull that from thin air–conquerors though the Ottomans certainly were, Jewish refugees DID consent unbullied to be governed by them, and DID in fact move there specifically for that purpose. And in fact, even in the last century of the Empire, when Greece, Serbia, Egypt, and countless other former Ottoman possessions were trying to gain independence, the Ottoman Empire’s Jews (mostly in Salonica, today’s Thessaloniki, now in Greece) refused to join the Zionist movement and move to what’s now Israel, because they wanted to remain loyal to the Empire.

          However, if the yardstick for being a “legitimate authority” is “authority that serves those governed with their unbullied consent,” then I have to wonder, why would you feel it necessary to qualify that by saying “in Mesopotamia for seven thousand years”? Surely, by that measure, NO place on earth qualified as such, until the bourgeois revolutions in France and what became the United States?

  • winjas

    Oh God, if I hear the word disingenuous one more time. Just say liar!

  • Robert Thomas

    I get that the point of writing a whole book about this is to express the author’s frustration or dismay or disgust at his perception that this sort of thing has reached a new degree of awfulness but I don’t see it. Cliché and lazy idiom have been used in second-rate rhetoric for thousands of years.

    Anyone who’s ever bothered to read a post of mine in these boards (not a long history) will recognize my wordy, pontificating, know-it-all style.

    In fact, I never met an adverb I didn’t like and though I cherish my copy of Strunk and White, I enjoy flouting their instruction.

    Contrary to the accusations of some of my critics, though, no one’s ever been crazy enough to pay me to write anything.

  • Tinyt

    Politicians nowadays *rollseyes* for more information read the conversation @

  • Robert Thomas

    This is fun!

    Using “check and balance” or “checks and balances” to mean “check” or “checks” is an error that my old American and Comparative Government teacher Mr Hotchkiss has a lot to answer for.

  • Robert Thomas

    Journalists wax reverentially about William Safire but he was a creep who cavorted with sty mates Ray Price, Ben Stein and Patrick Buchanan. They deserved a coat of tar and feathers and pitiably escaped being dumped from a scow towed out past the two hundred mile limit.

  • Robert Thomas

    I just now heard the words

    …take boots on the ground off the table…

    forced past the teeth of a member of the Washington press corps.

    • Whamadoodle

      OK, that’s pretty funny.
      I have to confess that whenever I hear the phrase “boots on the ground,” the viral hit “Pants on the Ground” goes through my head.

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