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On Senators Clinton and McCain Misspeaking

The last week has seen both John McCain and Hillary Clinton use the same verb when they tried to explain away giving some very inaccurate or false statements on the same subject.

John McCain admitted "misspeaking" after mistakenly saying Iran was arming al-Qaeda (several times), "Of course I am going to misspeak and I've done it on numerous occasions and I probably will do it in the future," McCain declared on '60 minutes' last Sunday.

Clinton explained that she "misspoke," made a "misstatement" in her remarks on her 1996 Bosnia trip and not for the first time on her trip. "So I misspoke" she said. "So I made a mistake. That happens. It proves I'm human, which, you know, for some people, is a revelation."

Hillary suffered more because it seems to be more of a pattern, whereas McCain could apparently suffer from what Brit Hume, the Fox commentator called 'senior moments' which is no more reassuring.

As for Hillary what more can you say? The London Times has an article 'Fibber-in-chief'today, on what I calling her "almost congenital fibbing" yesterday.

In fact the facility with which the Clintons misspeak is so pronounced that it is quite possible they have genuinely forgotten how to tell the plain truth. There was no real need for Mrs Clinton to make the claim about landing in sniper fire. But the compulsion to embroider, to dissemble and to dissimulate is now so entrenched in the synapses of the Clinton brain that it came to her as naturally as the truth would to a slow-witted innocent.

Someone once noted that the thing about the Clintons is that they will choose a big lie when a small lie will do, and choose a small lie when the truth will do. Most of the time they get away with it. But occasionally, an inconvenient truth, like a blue dress with DNA on it, or some forgotten news footage, shows up and damns them.

The BBC has even entered the discussion giving a etymology of the verb misspeak which goes back to Middle English/ Chaucer era.

The modern senses all have to do with unclear speaking and incorrect or misleading communication.

It's no accident that politicians have grasped for this phrase, says Cormac McKeown, one of the editors of Collins English Dictionary. They often do so when they don't want to say they told a deliberate untruth.

"It can mean to fluff one's lines, like an actor would, but it can also mean to speak erroneously or hastily without thinking, without giving it proper thought, so Clinton is relying on this ambiguity between the two meanings because then she can't really be proved wrong.

"But it's a stretch of the imagination that it was a slip of the tongue because it was quite a long and involved story that went on for about five minutes".

Are our politicians getting away with saying they misspoke when they lied, believing what they say is not true an deceiving for some gain, George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at UC Berkeley clarifies why the senators were very unlikely not misspeaking, in an excellent NPR four minute audio podcast.

Lakoff ends his interview by wondering, "if McCain is deluded, if that is so, he should never be the president... or was he using a propaganda technique," in conflating Al-Qaeda with all of America's enemies in Iraq.

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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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