Lies, Damned Lies and Political Euphemisms

Many of you will have heard about the recent brouhaha involving Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps, who referred to his ‘over firm denial’ of a statement he made while being interviewed on live radio at LBC.

You can watch the video here, in which you will witness Shapps categorically and vigorously denying (wrongly, as we now know, and he used more pedestrian language when he later admitted that he had “screwed up”) ever having had a second job whilst working as an MP. Shortly after the interview, a statement was issued explaining the error as an unfortunate mistake made in the “cut and thrust” of an interview.

Politicians are unfortunately known for their use of euphemisms, and Shapps now enters the pantheon of distinguished ‘over firm deniers’, some of whose gaffes are repeated in this post. Scroll down for a giggle – you may even emerge with some sympathy for them – we’re all human, after all.

  • I was obliged to correct him in a robust way.” (Boris Johnson, London’s mayor)

Context: Johnson unleashed a volley of f-bombs at his opposite number, Ken Livingstone, when the latter questioned his tax affairs.

  • Hiking the Appalachian Trail”. (South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford).

Context: He chose to go AWOL for six days to spend time with this mistress in Argentina. The Appalachian Trail is a well-known hiking trail in the US.

  • I did mis-speak”. ( Hilary Clinton)

Context: Clinton had claimed, wrongly, that she had experienced sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996.

  • I didn’t inhale”. (Bill Clinton)

Context: The husband of the aforementioned Hillary was questioned about his use of marijuana. The verb ‘inhale’ was soon appropriated by students all over the US who used it to describe ‘getting high’.

  • Operative statement.”(Ron Zeigler). This one’s right up there with Grant Shapps’ “over firm denial”.

Context: Ziegler was Richard Nixon’s press secretary whose statement, “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative,” was translated by the rest of the world to mean that some statements are true, others are false.

  • Tired and emotional”. (Thought to be coined by Edward Eldred)

Context: The phrase was popularised by the satirical magazine Private Eye as a euphemism for ‘drunk’ in order to avoid  libel charges when describing their targets. They famously used the phrase to describe Labour’s cabinet minister George Brown’s inebriated state.

  • Spend more time with my family”. (Conservative party employment secretary Norman Fowler)

Context: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s employment secretary gave this phrase as his reason for resigning from his job in 1990, amidst talk of schisms within the party. The phrase has now become synonymous for explaining a difficult resignation.

Have you come across any interesting “misspeaks”? If so, share them in the comments box below!

Brainy Quote
NY Times