A few decades ago, comedians explored the English language as part of their routine. George Carlin was the best. He presented general, obvious nuances of language in a way that was little more than ordinary words. He made the listener think about what was behind the idea. He explored the limits of propriety at a time when four-letter words went way beyond no-nos. The public utterance of his seven words that you cannot say on TV could arrest you in many cities.
At about the same time, Carlin got us to investigate our own word usage, comedian Norm Crosby decimated the English language with his malapropism-based routine. No need to look it up, this 10 cent word means a misused word or a term that sounds like another (but has a different meaning).
People like Yogi Berra are good examples of those who use malapropism.
Writers throughout history have made use of the term in their work. Celebrities, athletes, comedians, writers, politicians, and everyone else are “guilty” of misusing the word. The thing is, most of those who use a word incorrectly are either trying to provoke a laugh or just misrepresenting what should be said.
On the TV show “Boston Legal” Denny Crane, the company’s former rainmaker, is portrayed as suffering from early onset dementia, with demonstrated episodes of “word salad,” in which he confuses ideas with mixed words. His once brilliant legal mind is shown to have moved on to cases of indiscriminate gibberish.
Today it seems like we have a national leader, Joe Biden, who all too often and inadvertently explores the realm of language abuse. Problem is, he’s not a comedian on a nightclub stage or an actor on a sitcom that entertains a paying audience. Instead, he is on a world stage that now delights world leaders, friends and foes alike, with his false word antics.
But President Joe doesn’t play in the same word game league as Carlin, Crosby, or Berra. He is not an intentional “malapropizer”. Rather, he is more of a Denny Crane, a gawking speaker who is unable to speak coherently in a hopeless situation. With each of his all too rare public appearances, everything is preprogrammed. But on the rare occasion when he tries weakly to respond to a spontaneous question, he refers to notes pulled out of his pocket. Or an occasional outbreak of anger directed at the questioner.
Joe Biden’s world-class slip-up apparently dates back to the beginning of his far too long time in public service. Proponents suggest that its slip-ups were related to childhood stuttering, which could be the case decades ago. But now, on the world stage, false quotations must make the world scratch its head in disbelief. How could the most powerful nation in the world choose such a disheveled person?
The old adage, be careful what you wish for, certainly applies to the choice of Joe Biden. The months he went into hiding, when campaign managers kept him out of the public eye under the guise of pandemic safety, should have warned thinking voters to ignore his candidacy. They knew Joe Biden was an inadvertent mix of Denny Crane, Norm Crosby, and Yogi Bear. It’s obvious to see that the Donkey Party understood that Bernie Sanders could never be elected, and brushed him aside in favor of Word Salad Biden as the second best choice.
The response to the 2022 elections will be interesting. With two years left in government, one has to wonder if the Dems will remove Biden from office and install VP Kamala Harris as his replacement. Everything is based on words spoken in confusion.
Bob Foley is a columnist for the Sun Chronicle. His essays are published here every Friday.