National Press Club

Dickson to explain 'bloviate,' 'iffy,' other presidential coinages

January 13, 2013 | By Nicole Hoffman |

Paul Dickson will discuss his new book, "Words from the White House," the first collection of words and lexical curiosities coined by US presidents, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 15.

Consider bloviate...lunatic fringe...iffy...military industrial complex...Anglophobia cabinet...public relations...ottoman...pedicure...point well taken...personal shopper...normalcy.... Organized chronologically, each entry contains the definition, etymology, and a brief essay placing the word or phrase in its cultural context.

From Washington (tin can) and Jefferson (who alone gets credit for some one hundred coinages, including belittle and the expression "holding the bag"), to Lincoln (relocate) and Teddy Roosevelt (bully pulpit), to Ike (mulligan) and Obama (Snowmageddon), the entries collectively tour more than two centuries of our history.

The founding fathers (a term created by Warren G. Harding for his "front porch campaign" of 1920) felt that coining words and creating new uses for old ones was part of their role in creating a new American culture and language, distinct from the proscriptive King's English.

Noah Webster called the creation of such Americanisms "acts of defiance," along with such radical ideas as universal literacy and public libraries. Ever since, American presidents have enriched our vocabulary with words, phrases, and concepts that we've put to general use.

Tickets are free for National Press Club members; $5 for non-members. Registration is required here. Club members should enter code “words” to reserve a free ticket. A book signing will follow the discussion. This event is a fundraiser for the National Press Club Journalism Institute. No outside books will be permitted.