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Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'm the Decider

In the probably immortal words of President Bush
"I hear the voices, and I read the front page and I know the speculation," the president said. "But I'm the decider, and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."
The locution "I'm the decider" is a very odd. No normal person would ever utter such a thing. The reason is that in the slot of "I am the ___" we would normally expect a noun phrase that serves to complete what is called a "definite description," a locution that identifies someone for the purposes of the conversation at hand. "I am the decider" just doesn't get that done.

If you are still struggling with why people reacted so swiftly to this Bushism (see my blog, George Bush and Mrs. Malaprop), consider a few other linguistic examples
I am the picker. I pick who should be sent to the Senate for confirmation.
I am the chooser. I always choose who we will have over for dinner.
I would have bet good money that no President would ever characterize himself as "the decider." "Commander in Chief," yes. "The Decider in Chief," no.

It seems that the oddity of Bush's locution led many of us older Americans to recall The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour album and the song, "I am the Walrus." Sing along with me.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, coo coo ca choo.
Many of us feel we are on a magical mystery tour of Bush's deciding.

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21 Comments:

Blogger Nykki said...

LG:
I like he new page layout because I am able to read the page a lot eaiser now.

12:23 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

If he (Bush) would of said, "I'm the decider in this issue." Would that have made you happy?

12:38 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I like the template improvement.

It's all fun to make fun of Bush's lack of linguistic skills, and I'm definitely on board for any of that. It is really odd. I don't think I've ever heard the word "decider" before. "I am the picker, I am the chooser, I am the decider, coo coo ca choo."

2:34 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Thanks, Nykki. It is the result of an effort to make something out of an accident.

No, L>T, your revision doesn't help much. "I make the decisions as to who leaves and who stays in the cabinent" would have been fine but he said what he said. As I noted in the earlier blog, it may be the result of some sort of lingusitic disability that he and his dad shared, some sort of disconnect between his thoughts and his expression of them. Another possibility is that he may have been trying to talk tough and isn't very good at doing that.

2:57 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

Being not too good with the grammer myself I can sympathize with him.

He was probally going for the common man angle; doing a little homespun like Abe Lincoln. Putting himself in the place of the ordinary Joe.

10:06 PM

 
Blogger SusieQ said...

Is it possible that the use of the word "decider" is regional and perhaps unique to Texas?

I did a search on the Internet and found two news articles (there are probably more) in Texas publications in which the word "decider" was used in the same way that Bush used it.

I know Bush batters the English language though in other ways. But maybe this time it was merely "Texas Tawk (talk)" coming out of him.

LT, you might be right about Bush using homespun words. This is the image he has portrayed to the public all along, that of a no frills straight-shooter. Maybe, too, he talks that way just to annoy liberals. :-)

11:56 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Unfortunately for your comparison, L>T, Lincoln was an "ordinary Abe" with a real feel for the language. : )

Bush playing American Everyman is a funny image, though. (Maybe he can't talk right due to that congenital silver spoon oral deformity?)

Speaking of riches, anyone mining the Bush Lode for misuse and weird coinage faces an embarrassment of them!

(SusieQ! Like liberals are the only ones that care about the language?!)

3:21 AM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

L>T, your idea that Bush is using homespun language or the language of the comman man won't fly. The problem with "I'm the decider" is precisely that it isn't how ordinary people talk or anyone else for that matter. This is, I think, why so many have reacted to it. A bunch of us seem independently flashed on "I am the walrus" for some reason. I think it may be because that too is an odd expression.

Last night I gave a talk on blogging to a bunch of academics who knew little about our activities and one suggested that Bush is dyslexic. This is possible though I have never heard about it. I still go with my view that he has a species of anomia where there is a disconect between his thoughts and the linguistic realization of the thoughts.

There would be nothing wrong with is saying, "I make the decisions as to who stays and who goes in my Administration." So, the problem is not with the underlying thought or, as I put it in my last book, with the "gist" of what he wanted to communicate. The problem is how that thought got translated into speech. I think he has some sort of mild language disability.

Please understand that I am not some snooty academic that likes to corrrect other people's English. We linguists almost invariably go the other way and defend how ordinary people talk.

7:35 AM

 
Blogger Nykki said...

"I still go with my view that he has a species of anomia where there is a disconnect between his thoughts and the linguistic realization of the thoughts."

I agree with your point.I think that Bush has a small issues with speaking before thinking which causes his disconnection with what he meant to say and wants he says. Bush may have been trying to tell everyone in his speech that he is the "man in charge" when it come to who is to stay in his administration, however it did not come across as such and left anyone who has read(heard) his comment wonder what he is talking about.

"Please understand that I am not some snooty academic that likes to correct other people's English. We linguists almost invariably go the other way and defend how ordinary people talk."

You're not snooty! It makes people aware of the meanings behind how and why they choose the way they communicate. Because of your observations, it has created attention to become aware of the actions of words in written and oral communication. I have learned a lot about my own style of communicating ,through the many examples you have used on your blogs.

11:22 AM

 
Blogger Pastry Chef said...

I am dyslexic and therefore I speak for all dyslexics everywhere. "Decider" is rather old-school, and in fact even "Decisionator" has been depricated in favor of the current term of art: Mind Maker-Upper.

Mr. Bush's only sin was not staying current on contemporary language usage. He should have instead said, "I am the Mind Maker-Upper." Then no one would have mocked him, and instead we would have all thought he was super cool.

1:48 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

yes, no matter how you cut it, 'decider' is not acceptable speech.

I agree w/nykki that you are not snooty. You acually put up with quite alot of crap. :)

Speaking of Abe Lincoln, I'm reading a book called, 'Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln'
He did have a way with words that connected him to other people. Not in the sense that he mangled the language, though.
He choose his words carefully. The book gives examples of how he would go over his speeches & cull inflammatory language, for example.

3:07 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Thanks, Nykki and L>T for your faith in my nonsnootiness. One of the things those who favor language purity dislike about us linguists is that we not only don't join them, we resist them. One day I need to blog on what is right about standard written English. The problem comes when people think that how we are supposed to write applies to how we are supposed to talk. Talk came first. Neither should be the same as the other.

4:00 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

LG, I'm finding that out.
I mean talking as opposed to writting.
I wonder if President Bush confused egotistical thinking w/talking?

7:04 PM

 
Anonymous ptarmigan said...

No particular point to make, but I googled on the word decider. The results: decider -Bush

10:05 PM

 
Blogger thinking girl said...

My best guess is that Bush thinks he is so powerful he can ignore all grammatical laws and invent new words! Not in an overt or conscious way, but just in the "what I say, goes" way he does everything else. In his mind, who cares if he's not using words properly, HE'S THE DECIDER!

At best, at least he got his point across, loud and clear.

3:21 PM

 
Blogger Bill Gnade said...

Dear Language Guy,

"Decider" is a legitimate English noun. First known literary usage, according to the OED, is 1593.

So what is the problem? It is irrelevant whether the word sounds awkward. It is a bonafide word, hundreds of years old. Bush did not use it incorrectly; and his meaning carried. Why fixate on this? Besides, usage determines meaning: "decider" may be nearly obsolete, but Bush is entitled to keep it current in the company he keeps.

Peace.

BG

1:46 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

This use was recognized by everyone as not just odd, but bizarre. It struck me as the linguistic work of an ignorant, arrogant man.

3:36 PM

 
Blogger Bill Gnade said...

Dear Sir,

As I said, the word may be falling into obsolescence, but it is a perfectly normal English word. You are a linguist; you should have mentioned this fact at least once in this piece. Bush's diction here is perfectly legitimate and even precise in a simple statement that too many people have derided without proper information. There are many Bushisms at which to scoff, but this is not one of them. And being anachronistic is not a linguistic crime; and even if it is, no one has criticized Bush for being linguistically out-of-date. Critics have dismissed him for using a word they thought was not an acceptable one.

If every English dictionary in my library lists "decider" as a legitimate noun, please tell me how it is that "everyone" recognized his usage as "odd" and "bizarre"? Meaning, as you know, is determined by usage: I fully understood what Mr. Bush was saying, and what he said was linguistically acceptable in every way. If we are to fault him it might be for this conceit: "I decide what's best." But that is a political criticism, and not a linguistic one.

Peace,

BG

8:38 AM

 
Blogger muzza said...

Pizzle is a real word too. It is similarly old and seldom used, but is nominally more formal and less objectionable than the more modern usage of the noun dick.

Bush was using a formal, much simplified form of management-speak where humans are framed as stacks of componentry within a larger system in which the Decider gets the most power for the least effort. If you are a member of the Bush class, this is an irresistable construct.

Older books for new managers advise them to consolidate their new position in the minds of their underlings by stating early and often "I am the leader."

The Decider has briefly scanned and stored one or more of these outdated manuals in his personal library, next to his autographed copy of "My Pet Goat."

10:29 AM

 
Blogger Thr Language Guy said...

A perfectly reasonable account.

4:43 PM

 
Blogger BSeeg said...

Language guy, your statement "It struck me as the linguistic work of an ignorant, arrogant man" seems rather arbitrary, or even showing a particular leaning.

I admit that I myself, just looking at Bush initially, and hearing him, easily thought him a rube. But rubes don't make it through Ivy League schools, and the Air Force requires a certain level of intelligence and judgment in someone before they let them fly jets. After listening to his book, "Decision Points", in his own words, it seems hard to tag him the village idiot that was such a popular thing in the media and among the critics of his presidency.

As far as using words like "decider", it's easy to imagine my mom, or any mom, when dealing with issues of order with their kids and having to speak in some haste, using "decider", and of course, following it by the discussion-ending parental formula ", and that's final!" But whether or not Bush had some language difficulty, it certainly is easy to pick on someone because of language usage. "Nucular" was another pronunciation that got him criticism, even though it is quite a common mispronunciation of the word "nuclear" throughout the country, particularly in the South.

My wife taught kids with language development impairment for quite some time in the public schools, and from my own experience with her students, though some were retarded, but many were extremely bright, just with language-processing impairments. There are many people with varying degrees of spoken-language impairments who function quite well in society otherwise. It is a great gift to be able to use language well, and we should be thankful to use language to express ourselves well.

Falling back on classifying Bush as the village idiot does not reflect well on you. It might make you sound snooty, especially when you don't want to be seen that way. Unfortunately, your use of the adjunct "arrogant" also further opens you to that charge, as well of having a political prejudice, rather than being merely a linguistic observer.

Arrogance is making demeaning comments about Pennsylvanians to San Franciscans, and then turning around the words using certain intellectual skills to make it seem like it was really a compliment, especially when it was doubtful it was ever a compliment in the first place.

5:02 PM

 

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