Being the leader of the free world has its perks: fame, power, and even a private plane. But holding the office of president of the United States also means that the world is watching your every move. And with cameras and tape recorders constantly rolling, it’s easy to point out when a mistake is made. In honor of Presidents’ Day, let’s take a look at the blunders our US presidents have made with language.
John F. Kennedy
In 1963, President Kennedy tried to show solidarity with the Germans by proclaiming, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Kennedy wanted to say “I am a Berliner,” but his words could also be understood as “I am a jelly doughnut.” You see, the German translation of “I am a Berliner” has no indefinite article, so when Kennedy added “ein,” it sounded like he was referring to a local doughnut called the Berliner.
This one really wasn’t poor Carter’s fault; he just had a bad interpreter. In 1977, while giving a speech to people in Poland, Carter said that he wanted to learn about the Poles’ “desires for the future,” but the interpreter told the crowd that President Carter had sexual desire for the Polish people. The Poles were freaked out, and needless to say, the interpreter was dismissed.
So Quayle was technically a vice president, but this story is just too good to pass up. In 1992, he visited an elementary school in Trenton, New Jersey, and was helping out with a spelling bee. Student William Figueroa wrote the word potato on the board, but Quayle told him to add an “e” at the end. The puzzled boy did as he was told, despite his better judgment. Comedians then had a heyday with the potatoe mistake, but Quayle insisted that he was simply following an erroneous flash card provided by the teacher.
George W. Bush
Bush is famous for his “Bushisms,” or linguistic errors and malapropisms. In 2000 he told a crowd in Arkansas, “They misunderestimated me.” That same year he also told a chamber of commerce in New Hampshire to imagine that they were single mothers “working hard to put food on your family.” The mistakes were so frequent and amusing that they prompted enterprising individuals to sell books and other merchandise printed with the president’s most memorable quotes.
True, Clinton hasn’t been president, but she was secretary of state and is a possible presidential hopeful for 2016. In 2009, she met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to smooth over relations between his country and the United States. To symbolize a fresh start, she gave Lavrov a button that she thought said “reset” in Russian. It was actually translated incorrectly; the wording meant “overcharged” or “overloaded.” Oops!
Politician or not, mistakes happen. What about you?
Every language learner makes mistakes. That’s the best way to learn, right? What about you? Have you made any memorable language mistakes? Share them in the comments!
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