Inauguration Day Review of Paul Dickson’s Words from the White House

“I am a friend to neology. It is the the only way to 15793655give a language copiousness and euphony.”

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams in an 1820 letter

Neology is according to dictionary.com is “the practice of using or introducing neologisms.” And a neologism is “a newly coined word, or a phrase or familiar word used in a new sense.” (dictionary.com)

On this Inauguration Day it is a privilege to offer a review of Paul Dickson’s new book Words from the White House: Words or Phrases Coined or Popularized by America’s Presidents.

Published earlier this month by Walker and Company, Words from the White House is an alphabetical listing of words and phrases either coined (newly minted?) by one of the American Presidents or made popular by them or, in some cases, influenced their language in some way, and a listing, by the order of their Presidency, of some ‘firsts’ of each man to have held the office. (Which President was the first to be wounded in battle?)

“Why this book?” you might ask. Dickson provides us with a good answer in his short introduction:

“By nature of the microscope under which they are observed, presidents are more likely than the rest of us to have have words or phrases attributed to them they did not coin. Presidents are also more likely to come under fire for “impurity” of speech or for their disregard of the “rules” of English-or, even worse, for using words that are undignified.”

I learned a few new things in reading this book that perhaps you, the reader of this review, already knew but that is part of joy and delight of reading. For example, probably obvious to some, maybe many, is the origin for the naming of the famous New York City street – Madison Ave. Yes, it was named, like the Wisconsin capital city of Madison for our fourth president after his death in 1836.

How about the common word ‘ok?’ According to this book it seemed to have originated as an abbreviation of the word orl korreckt “a jokey misspelling of “all correct.” But it was popularized as the nickname of “Old Kinderhook,” Martin Van Buren, who was supported by an “O.K. Club during his 1840 Campaign.

Interesting and insightful, this short volume brings to life both “American English” and American History through the phrases and words that defined Presidents and their administrations as well as the best, and worst, of American politics and history. This book is a delightful addition to a coffee table or Trivial Pursuit discussion of the American Presidency.

I liked this book and I rate it a ‘great’ read.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. I was not required to write a review of it. I chose to write a review.

Answer to the question go the first American President to be wounded in battle? James Monroe

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