Political gaffe

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A political gaffe is an error made by a politician that is reported to the public.[1] When made by a politician who is campaigning for office or party leadership, gaffes can affect standings in polls.[2] While in office the opposition can refer to them in governmental debates over policy.[3] Gaffes can be classified in different types.[4]

Gaffes can be overplayed by the media as side stories to more important issues at the time.[5]

Gaffe is of French origin, originally a 'boat hook' as in 'gaff rig' where the relation is apparent, but the sense association to a blundering remark is obscure.[6]

Kinsley gaffe[edit]

A Kinsley gaffe occurs when a political gaffe reveals some truth that a politician did not intend to admit.[7][8] The term comes from journalist Michael Kinsley, who said, "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."[9][10]

The term gaffe may be used to describe an inadvertent statement by a politician that the politician believes is true while the politician has not fully analyzed the consequences of publicly stating it. Another definition is a statement made when the politician privately believes it to be true, realizes the dire consequences of saying it, and yet inadvertently utters, in public, the unutterable.[11] Another definition is a politician's statement of what is on his or her mind—this may or may not be inadvertent—thereby leading to a ritualized 'gaffe dance' between candidates. While exhibiting umbrage or shock, and playing on the mistake, the 'offended candidate' must not exhibit anything resembling glee.[12][13] A propensity to concentrate on so-called 'gaffes' in campaigns has been criticized as a journalistic device that can lead to distraction from real issues.[A] The Kinsley gaffe is said to be a species of the general 'political gaffe.'[4]

Kinsley himself posed the question: "Why should something a politician says by accident automatically be taken as a better sign of his or her real thinking than something he or she says on purpose?"[13]

Memorable gaffes by country[edit]


  • On August 12, 2013, at a Liberal Party function in Melbourne as part of the 2013 Federal Election campaign, Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, criticising Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, said "No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom." The word he meant was "repository". It did not take long for the clip of Mr Abbott's gaffe to be featured on the websites of some of the world's biggest news organisations.[14]


  • The Central Election Commission showed Ilham Aliyev to be winning with 72.76% of the vote via the Commission's official smartphone app a day before voting had even started for the 2013 elections.[15]


Great Britain[edit]


United States[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ". . . the episode is a perfect gaffe precisely because its content was so meaningless. . ." Chait, Jonathan (June 14, 2012). "The Origins of the Gaffe, Politics’ Idiot-Maker". New York Magazine. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 


  1. ^ "Definition for gaffe – Oxford Dictionaries Online (World English)". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  2. ^ "Reagan jokes about bombing Russia — History.com This Day in History — 8/11/1984". History.com. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  3. ^ "CBC News In Depth: Canadian government". Cbc.ca. 2006-10-27. Retrieved 2012-05-29. [dead link]
  4. ^ a b Amira, Dan (June 14, 2012). "A Taxonomy of Gaffes". New York, NY USA: New York Magazine. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Jimmy Carter explains ‘rabbit attack’ – CNN Political Ticker – CNN.com Blogs". Politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com. November 21, 2010. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  6. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". etymonline.com. 
  7. ^ Webster, Merriam (June 3, 1972). "Merriam Webster definition of Gaffe". Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-04-11. 
  8. ^ Goddard, Taegan. "Kinsley Gaffe". Taegan Goddard's Political Dictionary. Political Wire. Retrieved April 10, 2012. 
  9. ^ Kinsley, Michael (April 23, 1988), Commentary: The gaffer speaks, The Times 
  10. ^ Friedman, Nancy (August 22, 2011). "Word of the Week: Kinsley Gaffe". Fritinancy. Archived from the original on April 10, 2012. 
  11. ^ McKim, Brian; Skene, Tracy (January 17, 2012). "Brill makes a "Kinsley gaffe"". Shecky Magazine.com. Retrieved May 28, 2012. 
  12. ^ Smajda, Jon (October 23, 2008). "Michael Kinsley on the ritual of the gaffe". Retrieved May 28, 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Kinsley, Michael (March 6, 2012). "Kinsley: Limbaugh and the hypocrisy of the gaffe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 29, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Abbott's gaffe goes global". ninemsn. 
  15. ^ "Oops: Azerbaijan released election results before voting had even started". The Washington Post. 
  16. ^ "Making BC a Green Jobs Machine - The Tyee". The Tyee. 21 October 2010. 
  17. ^ "ABCBookWorld". ABCBookWorld. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  18. ^ "MacKay denies referring to Stronach as a dog – Canada – CBC News". Cbc.ca. 2006-10-19. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  19. ^ BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/background/pastelec/ge45.shtml.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ "UK | Curse of the open mic". BBC News. 2001-01-29. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  21. ^ M.J. Stephey (2011-06-13). "Gerald Ford, 1976 – TIME's Top 10 Gaffes and Mistakes in Political Debates". TIME Magazine. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  22. ^ "Rejecting U.S. Support for Palestinian ‘Ethnic Purification’". FrontPage Mag. October 7, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Jimmy Carter's 'Lust in the Heart' Playboy Interview". Washington Post. July 21, 1998. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  24. ^ Liberman, Mark (1 February 2007). "Biden's Comma". Language Log. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  25. ^ Lim, Christine; Stephey, M.J. (9 December 2007). "Top 10 Campaign Gaffes". Time Magazine. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  26. ^ "Obama's 'Famous' '57 States' Gaffe Went Virtually Unmentioned in the NYTimes". NewsBusters. 
  27. ^ Robin, Corey (March 29, 2015). "Joe Biden’s Israel stunner: American Jews should let Israel protect them". Salon. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]