Presidential Terms of Office Enrich Language

Article excerpt

What do the terms "belittle," "lunatic fringe" and "iffy" have in common? They were all coined by U.S. presidents. Thomas Jefferson invented "belittle" to complain that the French were disparaging the natural wonders of North America. Theodore Roosevelt created "the lunatic fringe" to belittle Cubists and Impressionists, and Franklin D. Roosevelt devised the term "iffy" to describe dicey situations.

In a delightful new book "Words from the White House" (Walker & Co., $18), veteran lexicographer Paul Dickson uncovers scores of words and phrases coined or popularized by U.S. presidents.

As a creator of words, Jefferson was the neologist in chief. He invented "Anglophobia," "lengthily," "electioneering," "indecipherable," "monotonously" and "pedicure." In fact, he coined the verb "neologize."

But when it comes to forging catch phrases, TR was king. Credit Teddy with first using or popularizing "loose cannon" (to refer to an unpredictable person), "muckraker" (crusading journalist), "pussy- footer" (pusillanimous politician), "mollycoddle," "bully pulpit" (the presidency) and "throw one's hat into the ring."

See whether you can name the president associated with each of these words and phrases in Dickson's book:

1. Normalcy

2. Military-industrial complex

3. Kitchen cabinet

4. Silent majority

5. …