I Misspoke – A Language Lesson

by Paul on September 4, 2010

Talking Points Memo brings us this news:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is finally backpedaling on her bogus claim that headless bodies have been found in the Arizona desert, the alleged product of illegal immigration.

“That was an error, if I said that,” Brewer told the Associated Press yesterday. “I misspoke, but you know, let me be clear, I am concerned about the border region because it continues to be reported in Mexico that there’s a lot of violence going on and we don’t want that going into Arizona.”

I have said this before. The word “misspoke” refers to an inadvertent error in pronunciation, word order, or structure of sentence. When you say “I had fits for dinner” when you really mean “I had fish for dinner”, then you can say you misspoke.

Misspoke does NOT mean “to have said something completely bat-shit insane and thoroughly untrue for the express purpose of advancing my political agenda, which something I have been later forced by resultant scandal to retract.” In that situation, it is not accurate to say you “misspoke.”

One way it is possible to tell the difference: when you say “I had fits for dinner” and someone listening says “I think you mean you had fish”, you respond “Oh, what did I say? Fits? Really? Ha! No, of course, I meant fish. Fits for dinner, now, that would be messy!” and everyone has a chuckle and moves on.

On the other hand, if you say something and people listening point out your error, and you deny, dissemble and resist multiple corrections over multiple weeks, to the point of even rudely running away from reporters who ask you about it, that’s altogether different.

It’s also a tip if, though there is tape of you saying it which has been replayed over and over again on multiple news programs, you still suggest there is a possibility that you did not, in fact, say it.

Though it would be convenient for the current crop of Republican politicians if we had a word that meant “I, while continuing to provisionally deny that I said it, acknowledge the political liability of continuing to ignore it, and therefore, grudgingly, offer a signifier that my opponents have some right to count-coup in this situation by acknowledging that such a thing would not be accurate/truthful/correct, had I said it (which I might still maintain I didn’t)”, the word “misspoke” is NOT that word.

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