When George W. Bush attacked Saddam Hussein in a speech Wednesday, the British papers were boggled by the president’s vocabulary, described by the Financial Times as “his inimitable populist argot,” specifically his references to Saddam having “stiffed” the world and “crawfished” the international community.
The Times’ Washington correspondent accused the president of inventing the verb “to crawfish,” which it claimed was “unknown even to slang dictionaries” and worried that he would “plunge the simultaneous translators into meltdown” when he addresses the United Nations on Sept. 12. The Independent was more resourceful—turning to Webster’s for a definition of crawfishing (“to retreat from a position, to back out, to fail to stick to a statement made”). The paper declared: “Southern presidents have always been more fun to listen to, even if, as in the case of the adopted Texan, Mr Bush, they do not mean to be. Bill Clinton, from Arkansas, had an idiomatic turn of phrase too, telling strange tales about turtles on fenceposts.” A Times op-ed praised Dubya’s linguistic stylings: “The President may not know it, or show it. But he is a linguistic archaeologist as well as a poet. His vivid metaphors are just the kind of colloquialisms that we Limeys expect to hear around the Texan barbecue or bar of our imaginations. They are lovely.”