Taking the Words Right Out of His Mouth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 19, 1998; Page D01
In our continuing efforts to heed Vice President Gore's call for a return to "plain English" in official communications, we today present a Special Report on the president's statement to the nation. In short, we shall now "parse the statement." We were going to ask Gore to help us, but we understand he is in Australia or Madagascar, having failed to secure last-minute passage on an unmanned probe to Mars.
President's version: I must take complete responsibility for all my actions, both public and private. And that is why I am speaking to you tonight.
Plain English version: I am reliably informed that prison cells contain spiders. I do not like spiders. And that is why I am speaking to you tonight.
President's version: In a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information.
Plain English version: When I denied having been alone with Ms. Lewinsky, for example, I was technically telling the truth. How can one be "alone" in any sense when one is with another human being, especially if the two of you are engaged in an intimate sex act? Of course I was not "alone" with Miss Lewinsky! I was "together" with Miss Lewinsky. I failed to volunteer this distinction.
President's version: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate.
Plain English version: Check my moves here. Notice how at the start of this critical sentence, I use the word "indeed," which sounds extremely scholarly, sort of like it is being uttered by William F. Buckley Jr. during a discussion of our policy of disengagement with Albania. This word makes anything sound dignified and too boring to pay attention to. "Indeed, the interaction of subtexts in this work, as revealed by the clear bifurcation of themes, indicates a bipolar profligacy." "Indeed, as de Tocqueville observed, the probity of the American polity will brook no animus not inherent in the commonweal." "Indeed, I bagged the chick." Zzzzz.
President's version: In fact, it was wrong.
Plain English version: This is an important distinction, "not appropriate" vs. "wrong." For example, brown shoes with black pants are "not appropriate." My error was more grievous, along the lines of brown shoes and no pants.
President's version: . . . at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action.
Plain English version: I did consider asking Hillary to say that she used to borrow dresses from Monica all the time. But that might have resulted in my death via rolling pin.
President's version: I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.
Plain English version: I got caught before Vernon could put a lid on this. I deeply regret that.
President's version: It's nobody's business but ours. Even presidents have private lives.
Plain English version: Bite me.
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