Tannen in the Times


“Perhaps it was not by chance that it was a woman who asked the president, at the town hall debate last Friday, to list three instances in which he had made wrong decisions since taking office. If women react to Mr. Bush’s made-no-mistake tactic the way they react to it when it is used by men in their lives, a majority may well be more angered than reassured. That’s because it drives many women nuts when men won’t say they made a mistake and apologize if they do something wrong. I’m reminded of a woman who was angry at her husband because she had given him an important letter to mail and he’d assured her he’d mail it, then told her the next day, “I forgot to mail your letter,” and stopped there. She waited in vain for the sentence to continue, “I’m sorry.” In the end, she was angry not about the letter but about the missing apology.” Deborah Tannen, “Being President Means Never Having to Say He’s Sorry”, Oct 12, 2004, in the NY Times (after it goes to the archives you can log in as catchword7, pwd: catchword)

Nice to see so many linguists weighing in on the election. Sociolinguistics in particular is a crucial part of the media surrounding politics; it’s all about the words and who gets to decide what they mean. I really hope that the useful and descriptive phrase “changing one’s mind” does not get replaced by “flip-flopping” in the common discourse.


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