Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Whitehouse Slang

No my Australian friends, this note is not about slang in the Australian outback. It is about some of the slang words introduced to and promoted by the US media by the Bush administration, slang which we still hear and probably will continue hearing for a few more years.

I’m not talking about the Bushisms like, “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” I’m talking about what, with remarkable clarity, falls under the rubric of “slang”. Why do I think so?

WhitehouseAccording to my essay, “What is Slang,” “Slang is a code in which one vaguely related or unrelated word or phrase is substituted for a more common one.” It is a set of words that identifies the speaker with a particular social or occupational group, especially a group of youths, but members of a puerile administration fit the pattern just as well.

I suspect whoever dreamed up these terms thought that they were clever marketing terms that would becloud if not completely hide their real meanings. But they really don’t work as long-term additions to the English vocabulary.

The most persistent one as of today is rendition, a slang term for the outsourcing of torture. Of course, the US has never done this before Vice President Cheney decided it the proper course to take. But it is a cover word, as much a euphemism as slang.

Rendition, of course, is the playing of a musical piece in a specific style. It is a noun based on render, though it is seldom as ever used this way. You can render aid, render fat (which may have happened in our off-shore torture chambers), render an opinion, but I’m don’t recall seeing rendition used in any of these senses. Certainly, it doesn’t mean “outsource torture”.

So, rendition, which I only figured out last week it is so opaque, joins the misuse of surge for “reinforcements” and embed for “exclude all but friendly news reporters” in the attempts at slang of the past administration. As I have mentioned before, the most remarkable aspect of this bizarre linguistic episode of the past eight years is the US networks willing complicity in promoting this misuse of English.


4 Responses to “Whitehouse Slang”

  1. Brian Says:

    Actually, renditions as an official policy began under the Clinton administration (

    Also, do you have any evidence that the military screen reporters before allowing them to be embedded and rejected those who were unfriendly? I understand the arguments that many present against embedding on ethical grounds, but that seems a different argument than what you are asserting.

  2. Matt Says:

    “Rendition” is a word that was used in the context of international criminal prosecutions before George W. Bush’s entourage of hooligans appropriated it for their own nefarious purposes. “Extraordinary rendition” is the prevalent term of art in legal circles referring to the extradition of a subject located in a country that does not choose to cooperate in the extradition. Thus, although the term has apparently been corrupted to apply to the unauthorized taking of a prisoner for interrogation/ torture, it has a history of referring to a quasi-legitimate practice.

  3. rbeard Says:

    The fact that “rendition” is an arcane legal term (which is seldom found in legal dictionaries) tells us where it came from but not how it is used by the networks today. I would argue that, since the meaning given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is a form of extradition, it is really legal slang so long as the process itself is not legal (extradition requires court approval in the nation of origin). “Cool” has an origin and an original meaning; that does not preclude its use as a slang word for “excellent”. Slang is a code identifying the speaker with a particular group, therefore it is a matter of usage, not lexical origin.

  4. rbeard Says:

    The fact that the factual reporting on the Iraq war is far, far below that of the Vietnamese war leads me abruptly to the conclusion that the reporters are selected. Only on public television and radio do you hear specialists on Iraq discuss the war and questions about the death tolls, investigative reports on Blackwater, criticism of paying Mr. Cheney’s corporation (Halliburton) for food services in the military, etc., etc. During the Vietname war the US public was inundated with information on situations like this. Every aspect of the war was investigated. Today, if you want to get investigative reporting on the war, we have to go to indie documentaries like “Uncovered” and “Iraq for Sale” (

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