Volume 76, Number 29 | December 13 - 19, 2006
A letter to the president about two little words
By Daniel Meltzer
Dear President Bush:
Please understand that I write you the following, as you attempt to stimulate diplomacy directed toward ending the chaos and carnage in Iraq. Please understand that I write as a concerned citizen with the highest respect for your office.
A primary responsibility of a head of state, as you would doubtless agree, is to communicate with the rest of the world on behalf of the citizens who reportedly elected him. What the president says, as well as how he says it, affect how Americans are perceived around the globe. He is our highest official spokesperson, our delegate to the world forum.
Many of us may not have agreed with you when you chose to call a handful of nations that you identified as our enemies an “axis of evil.” We may not have been with you when you decided that Saddam Hussein had or was getting “weapons of mass destruction” and that he would use them against us unless we went to war, invaded and occupied Iraq.
Many were quite uncomfortable in general with the confrontational language in your early speeches, especially those delivered before and during the early months of the Iraq War. You seemed to want to frighten or intimidate our enemies, to get them to back down, even though you invited them to “bring it on,” which of course they did.
A lot of us also say that you do not always tell the truth, or that you don’t even know what the truth is when you claim that you do. You have blamed “bad intelligence” for some of the more disastrous decisions you have made. Most of us agree with you, although we think the problem may not have been with the C.I.A.
Your tone does seem to have changed over the past year, but there is still something about your personal public speaking style that troubles a lot of us. As a graduate of an Ivy League college, a former governor and now a two-term president of the United States, you are of course aware that the degree with which any leader is respected and taken seriously is directly proportional to his mastery of his own language and his articulation of his own native tongue. But most English-speaking people have noticed that, throughout your presidency, you have, either unknowingly or intentionally, consistently mispronounced two words that are central to the crisis of our time.
Perhaps no one has offered to come forward to correct you. May I respectfully direct your attention to the following:
1. The proper pronunciation of the word NUCLEAR is NÉW-KLEE-ERR, with the accent on the first syllable. It is not pronounced NÉW-KEW-LAR. That pronunciation would be correct if the word were spelled nucular. But it is not.
2. The name of the country which you invaded and in which our military is still actively engaged is properly pronounced EAR-RÓCK. It is not pronounced EÝE-rack. The citizens of that country, to whom you promised a peaceful, democratic homeland, would no doubt be grateful and may even like us a little more if you pronounced the name of their country correctly.
When you ran for office you said you would be a uniter, not a divider. It took a while for you to get there, but at last look you seem to have pretty much united the world against us and united your own citizens in their embarrassment over your policies and actions.
You said, also, during your first term that you wanted to be remembered as the “education president.” You still have two years to fulfill that pledge. A great leader sets a proper example. Pronouncing key words and names correctly in your public statements would be a helpful step in that direction.
Thank you and good luck over the next two years.
Daniel Meltzer adjunct professor of public speaking, Marymount Manhattan College,
New York City