The Scandal of the Language of Scandal

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

The Scandal of the Language of Scandal


August 25, 1998


Perhaps the most significant legacy of the Clinton sex scandal will be its contribution to the English language. Is it just me or are there brand new euphemisms popping up every day? If someone returned to the US after a ten year trip, would he or she have any clue what Dan Rather is talking about when he keeps mentioning the "President's DNA." Or the word "arouse." Didn't there used to be a time when you didn't immediately think of Bill Clinton when you heard that word?

And then, of course, there's our esteemed President himself, the virtuoso of the English language. I believe him when he says that he "technically" didn't lie. He is, after all, the one person alive who can probably tell the truth and lie at the same time. Put him on a lie detector test, and he would probably pass every time. Technically might as well be his middle name.

Personally, I'm in awe of the way he only admits to things that nobody can actually define. I'm just waiting for him to announce that it wasn't a lie in January when he denied having improper relations with Monica. "I may have had inappropriate relations with her, but I sure didn't have any improper relations." He will announce calmly to the nation, after which his approval ratings will surge into the eighties. By the way, does anyone out there know exactly what "having inappropriate relations" means? "I have a rude aunt. Does that count?" My friend Dawn wanted to know the day after the speech.

Having said all this, it's time to defend the President for a moment. Frankly, the pundits/politicians are starting to get on my nerves. Let's face it. The President's speech really wasn't that bad. I'm getting sick of hearing everyone complain that he didn't apologize. He may not have used the words "sorry" or "apologize," but so what? It sure sounded like an apology to me. He said "misled" instead of "lie." Big deal. If we're going to quibble about these little details, we'll be playing the same game with language that the President plays every day.

There is obviously another reason for the disappointment in the speech. Just remember that whenever you turn on the television and hear people complaining about the President's speech -- that he didn't apologize enough, that he shouldn't have attacked Ken Starr, that the American people deserve to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- what they are really expressing is their heartfelt disappointment that the President's speech did not contain the word "oral."

This speech was, after all, the biggest entertainment event of the summer. (My roommate Anna even made popcorn for it.) We were not there for politics. We tuned in because as grossed out as we are by the whole thing we wanted to see how much the President would have to admit. Sure, we didn't expect any details, but we wanted to be there just in case the President of the United States suddenly took out diagrams the way Ross Perot used to and dove into all the explicit details of his, er, DNA activities.

And one final note. Could we please have some sort of moratorium on the use of the word "blow" in news reports about this. I don't mean to act like Beavis or Butthead here, but for a few days every time I flipped past the news there was some reporter exclaiming, "Well, Brit, this is a serious blow to the President." I almost wanted to start up some sort of drinking game in which you have to drink every time you hear a reporter use that phrase. Meanwhile, Orrin Hatch, a Republican Senator from Utah and no doubt Chairman of the Senate Pencil-Necked Geeks Committee, announced on CNN, "I'm so angry I want to blow my cork." Orrin, dude, could we come up with a better metaphor? Please? You have speech writers. Use them.

At any rate, we all know that the scandal and its $40 million investigation is far from over. With our luck, we'll still be watching it unfold as we get ready to cross that lovely bridge to the 21st century. Talk about a serious blow to the country.


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