TWENTY-EIGHT

Warren G. Harding
1921-23

Warren Gamaliel Harding ( 1865-1923) once confessed: "I like to go out into the country and bloviate." 1 In Ohio, when Harding was a young man, to bloviate meant to loaf around, chat with people, and in general enjoy oneself. For Harding the politician bloviating turned out to mean making long-winded speeches stuffed with shabby ideas, stale clichés, and awkward neologisms.

A former small-town Ohio newspaper editor, Harding thought he had a way with words. He did, but it was the wrong way. He gave intransitive verbs direct objects: "we must prosper America first." He left transitive verbs dangling bewilderedly without direct objects: "I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate." He used clumsy words of his own making, like "re-revealment." He was a master of banal wisdom: "Despite all the deprecation I cannot bring myself to accept the notion that the inter-relation among our men and women has departed." And he had a passion for alliteration that led him at times into an orgy of word-mongering. "Progression," he once said, "is not proclamation nor palaver. It is not pretense nor play on prejudice. It is not of personal pronouns, nor perennial pronouncement. It is not the perturbation of a people passion-wrought, nor a promise proposed."2

H. L. Mencken was fascinated by what he called "Gamalielese." It was, he thought, the worst English he had ever encountered. "It reminds me," he wrote, "of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me

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