Over the years, each one of America’s Presidents have left their mark on America, whether that was political decisions or even coining new terms. I recently came across an article that shares ten everyday words and phrases that were brought into usage by America’s Presidents over the years. Here are some of them, from Paul Dickson’s book “Words From the White House: Words and Phrases Coined or Popularized by America’s Presidents”:
Administration (George Washington): As the first President, George Washington defined the role of chief executive. He was also the first person to refer to a President’s chief period of time in office as an “administration”. He introduced the word in his Farewell Address in 1796. The Oxford English Dictionary also credits Washington with the first evidence of 32 different words, including “average” and “indoors”. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he coined the terms, only that he contained the earliest-recorded instances of them.
First Lady (Zachary Taylor): In the earlier decades of the US, the President’s wife was referred to by the mouthful “presidentress”. That changed in 1849, when Zachary Taylor eulogized Dolley Madison, the widow of James Madison, referring to her as the “First Lady”. While Zachary Taylor’s Presidency was cut short, the term stayed on.
Founding Fathers (Warren G Harding): While the term “founding fathers” sounds old as the Declaration of Independence, it actually came about from a speech given by Ohio Senator (later President) Warren G Harding to the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution. He later used the term during his 1920 presidential campaign, and it supplanted the usage of the previous term “framers”.
Iffy (FDR): Even though FDR had a high-class way of speaking, he nonetheless used slang at times, such as using the word “iffy” to describe some uncertainties or Supreme Court decisions with which he disagreed. He also used the phrase when swatting away hypothetical questions from reporters at press conferences.
Lunatic fringe (Theodore Roosevelt): Teddy Roosevelt brought plenty of great phrases into popular lexicon, including “bully pulpit”, “muckracker”, “loose cannon” and “pack rat”. “Lunatic fringe”, however, comes from after he left office, when he reviewed the avant-garde Armory Show in 1913. It soon crossed over from the art world into the political arena to characterize those whose beliefs weren’t held by the mainstream.
Mulligan (Dwight D Eisenhower): A noted golf enthusiast, Eisenhower popularized one term that was previously only heard on the golf course. “Mulligan” was a term used for do-overs in gold, and when he entered the White House, similar do-overs were referred to as “mulligans”.
Pedicure (Thomas Jefferson): No President coined more words than the jack-of-all-trades Thomas Jefferson. He introduced some 110 new words into the English language, including “mammoth”, “belittle” and :neologize”. As a “founding father”, Jefferson and his peers felt it was their duty to create a new American language. A committed francophile, Jefferson imported a number of French phrases into American vocabulary, including “pedicure”.
Quixotic (John Adams): In 1815 John Adams described one Venezuelan revolutionary who hoped to unite all of Spanish America as a “Quixotic adventurer”, in reference to the title character of the classic Spanish novel “Don Quixote”. While there had been earlier uses of the word, Adams’ reference helped popularize it.
Squatter (James Madison): When writing to Washington in 1788, Madison referred to a group of settlers in Maine who occupied land to which they had no legal title as “squatters upon other people’s land”.
Sugarcoat (Abraham Lincoln): Lincoln had the ability to incorporate both soaring oratory and plain-spoken language when it was necessary to do so. In a message to Congress in the aftermath of the secession of the Confederacy, Lincoln condemned those who were trying to “sugar-coat” the rebellion by calling it constitutional.