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George W. Bush speaking to a Joint Session of Congress, February 2001

Bushisms are unconventional statements, phrases, pronunciations, malapropisms, as well as semantic or linguistic errors in the public speaking of George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States.[1][2] Common characteristics include malapropisms, the creation of neologisms, spoonerisms, stunt words and ungrammatical subject–verb agreement.


Bush's use of the English language in formal and public speeches has spawned several books that document the statements. A poem entitled "Make the Pie Higher", composed entirely of Bushisms, was compiled by cartoonist Richard Thompson.[3][4] Various public figures and humorists, such as Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Garry Trudeau, creator of the comic strip Doonesbury, have popularized some more famous Bushisms.[5]

Linguist Mark Liberman of Language Log has suggested that Bush is not unusually error-prone in his speech, saying: "You can make any public figure sound like a boob, if you record everything he says and set hundreds of hostile observers to combing the transcripts for disfluencies, malapropisms, word formation errors and examples of non-standard pronunciation or usage... Which of us could stand up to a similar level of linguistic scrutiny?".[6] Nearly a decade after George W. Bush said "misunderestimated" in a speech, Philip Hensher called the term one of his "most memorable additions to the language, and an incidentally expressive one: it may be that we rather needed a word for 'to underestimate by mistake'."[7]

Journalist and pundit Christopher Hitchens published an essay in The Nation titled "Why Dubya Can't Read", writing:

I used to have the job of tutoring a dyslexic child, and I know something about the symptoms. So I kicked myself hard when I read the profile of Governor George W. Bush, by my friend and colleague Gail Sheehy, in this month's Vanity Fair. All those jokes and cartoons and websites about his gaffes, bungles and malapropisms? We've been unknowingly teasing the afflicted. The poor guy is obviously dyslexic, and dyslexic to the point of near-illiteracy. [...]

I know from my teaching experience that nature very often compensates the dyslexic with a higher IQ or some grant of intuitive intelligence. If this is true for Bush it hasn't yet become obvious.[8]

Stanford Graduate School lecturer and former Bush economic policy advisor Keith Hennessey has argued that the number of Bush's verbal gaffes is not unusual given the significant amount of time that he has spoken in public, and that Barack Obama's miscues are not as scrutinized. In Hennessey's view, Bush "intentionally aimed his public image at average Americans rather than at Cambridge or Upper East Side elites".[9]

Bush's statements were also notorious for their ability to state the opposite of what he intended, with notable examples including his remarks on the estate tax, "I'm not sure 80% of people get the death tax. I know this: 100% will get it if I'm the president."[10]

In 2001, Bush poked fun at himself at the annual Radio & Television Correspondents Dinner (now the White House Correspondents Dinner), delivering a monologue of him reacting and responding to his Bushisms.[1]

The term Bushism has become part of popular folklore and is the basis of a number of websites and published books. It is often used to caricature the former president.



  • "I think we agree, the past is over."[11][12] – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on meeting with John McCain; May 10, 2000
  • "They misunderestimated me."[13] – Bentonville, Arkansas; November 6, 2000
  • "I know that human beings and fish can coexist peacefully." – Saginaw, Michigan, September 29, 2000, while attempting to reassure the business community that he does not support tearing down dams to protect endangered fish species.[14]
  • "There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, 'Fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again.'"[15] – Nashville, Tennessee; September 17, 2002. The standard proverb is "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me".[16][user-generated source]
  • "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."[17] – Poplar Bluff, Missouri; September 6, 2004
  • "I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened."[18] – announcing he would write a book about "the 12 toughest decisions" he had to make. The correct word would have been authoritative.
  • "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."[19][20]
  • "I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." – Washington, D.C., in an interview with The Jerusalem Post; May 12, 2008[21][22]

Foreign affairs[edit]

  • "I'm the commander, see. I don't need to explain—I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."[23]
  • "I was proud the other day when both Republicans and Democrats stood with me in the Rose Garden to announce their support for a clear statement of purpose: you disarm, or we will." - Speaking about Saddam Hussein in Manchester, NH. October 5, 2002.[24]
  • "Yesterday, you made note of my—the lack of my talent when it came to dancing. But nevertheless, I want you to know I danced with joy. And no question Liberia has gone through very difficult times" – Washington, D.C., speaking with the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; October 22, 2008.[25]
  • "This is still a dangerous world. It's a world of madmen and uncertainty and potential mental losses." – Charleston, South Carolina, in a public outdoor speech; January 2000.[26] According to the Financial Times, the phrase "mental losses" confused the crowd, although it seemed distantly related to "missile launches".[26]
  • "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."[19][27]
  • "I'm telling you there's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That's the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best." – Washington, D.C.; January 12, 2009[28]
  • "Well, I mean that a defeat in Iraq will embolden the enemy and will provide the enemy—more opportunity to train, plan, to attack us. That's what I mean. There— it's— you know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."[29]
  • "I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace."[30] (reminiscent of "War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength" from Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell)'
  • "See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction."[31]
  • (On a golf course) "We must stop the terror. I call upon all nations, to do everything they can, to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you...now watch this drive."[32]
  • "The decision of one man, to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean, of the Ukraine. Iraq too. Anyway — I'm 75." – In address to George W. Bush Institute; May 18, 2022.[33][34]


  • "You bet I cut the taxes at the top. That encourages entrepreneurship. What we Republicans should stand for is growth in the economy. We ought to make the pie higher."[26]
  • In January 2000, just before the New Hampshire primary, Bush challenged the members of the Nashua Chamber of Commerce to imagine themselves as a single mother "working hard to put food on your family".[26]
  • "You work three jobs? ... Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." – Omaha, Nebraska; Feb. 4, 2005[35]


  • "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"[4]Florence, South Carolina; January 11, 2000
  • "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."[19]
  • "As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured." – September 2007[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bines, Jonathan (May 1992). Bushisms: President George Herbert Walker Bush in His Own Words. Workman Pub Co. ISBN 978-1-56305-318-4.
  2. ^ "The 'misunderestimated' president?". BBC. January 7, 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2009. The word "Bushism" has been coined to label his occasional verbal lapses during eight years in office, which come to an end on 20 January.
  3. ^ "The Comics Reporter". comicsreporter.com.
  4. ^ a b "Make the Pie Higher!". Snopes.com. 2002. Retrieved October 12, 2006.
  5. ^ Trudeau, Garry (wa). [Doonesbury]. April 16, 2006, Universal Press Syndicate.
  6. ^ Mark Liberman, "You say Nevada, I say Nevahda". January 3, 2004.
  7. ^ Hensher, Philip (July 21, 2010). "Sarah Palin's struggle with English language". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on July 23, 2010. Retrieved July 28, 2010.
  8. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (September 24, 2000). "Why Dubya Can't Read". thenation.com. The Nation. Archived from the original on October 16, 2021. Retrieved December 5, 2022. The poor guy is obviously dyslexic, and dyslexic to the point of near-illiteracy.
  9. ^ "George W. Bush Is Smarter than You". realclearpolitics.com.
  10. ^ Hall Jamieson, Kathleen (2004). The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World. Oxford University Press. p. 62.
  11. ^ "Bushisms of the Week". Slate Magazine. May 11, 2000. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  12. ^ Jackson, David and Wayne Slater. (May 10, 2000). "Subdued McCain Endorses Bush". The Dallas Morning News.
  13. ^ "Top Ten Bushisms: The Miseducation of America". Time. January 11, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2009.
  14. ^ "Top Ten Bushisms: Fish Are Friends". Time. January 11, 2009. Archived from the original on January 18, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2009.
  15. ^ "Remarks by the President on Teaching American History and Civic Education". White House Archives. September 17, 2002. Retrieved December 18, 2010.
  16. ^ "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me". en.wiktionary.org. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  17. ^ "Top Ten Bushisms: The Love Doctor is In". Time. January 11, 2009. Archived from the original on January 19, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2009.
  18. ^ "Bush Speech In Canada Met With Protests". CBS News.
  19. ^ a b c see (item number "26.", of) Kelly, Martin (June 22, 2016). "The 40 Dumbest Bush Quotes of All Time". Dotdash.com. Archived from the original on May 11, 2017. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  20. ^ Weisberg, Jacob (May 25, 2005). "Bushism of the Day". Slate.
  21. ^ Kurtzman, Daniel. "The 25 Dumbest Quotes of 2008". About.com. Archived from the original on April 6, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  22. ^ "The 'misunderestimated' president?". BBC. January 7, 2009.
  23. ^ Bob Woodward (November 19, 2002). Bush at War. Simon & Schuster. pp. 145–6. ISBN 978-0743204736.
  24. ^ "The Complete Bushisms". Slate Magazine. March 20, 2009. Archived from the original on July 22, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  25. ^ "The Complete Bushisms". Slate Magazine. March 20, 2009. Archived from the original on July 22, 2017. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  26. ^ a b c d "Make the Pie Higher!". Snopes.com. July 21, 2008.
  27. ^ "Top 10 Bushisms". Time. January 11, 2009. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  28. ^ Weisberg, Jacob (March 20, 2009). "The Complete Bushisms". Slate. Archived from the original on July 22, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  29. ^ Johnson, Caitlin (September 6, 2006). "Transcript: President Bush, Part 2". CBS News.
  30. ^ "President George W. Bush Speaks to HUD Employees on National Homeownership Month". U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. June 18, 2002.
  31. ^ "President Bush Discusses Economy, Small Business in Wisconsin". The White House. October 3, 2003.
  32. ^ Alan Isik, Arda (November 17, 2015). "Now watch this drive!". Daily Sabah. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  33. ^ Williams, Michael (May 19, 2022), "George W. Bush compares Zelenskyy to Churchill, calls Iraq invasion unjustified in gaffe", The Dallas Morning News (published May 18, 2022), retrieved May 21, 2022
  34. ^ Borger, Julian (May 19, 2022). "George W Bush accidentally admits Iraq war was 'unjustified and brutal' in gaffe". The Guardian. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  35. ^ "'Misunderestimate' tops list of notable 'Bushisms'". New York Daily News. January 8, 2009.
  36. ^ ""Childrens do learn," Bush tells school kids". Reuters. September 26, 2007. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2017.

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