Political gaffe

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A political gaffe is an error made by a politician.[1]

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.[2]

Kinsley gaffe[edit]

A Kinsley gaffe occurs when a political gaffe reveals some truth that a politician did not intend to admit.[3][4] 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."[5][6]

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.[7] 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.[8][9] 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.'[10]

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?"[9]

Steven Pinker says that politicians use vague and indirect language to avoid making concrete statements, and that lazy journalists base political coverage around "gaffe spotting" rather than analysis of political platforms.[11]

The rise of Internet activism has created a new generation of negative campaigning where a political campaign can create attack ads within an hour of a politician making a gaffe.[12][13]

Notable 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]



  • During a 2009 speech in Mexico City, crown prince Willem-Alexander mistranslated the proverb "A sleeping shrimp gets carried away by the tide" roughly as "A sleeping shrimp gets screwed."[19]




  • Victor Ponta's televised admission, after his party lost the 2008 election, that "their [the opponents'] system of electoral fraud worked better than ours"[22]

United Kingdom[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. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". etymonline.com.
  3. ^ Webster, Merriam (June 3, 1972). "Merriam Webster definition of Gaffe". Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
  4. ^ Goddard, Taegan. "Kinsley Gaffe". Taegan Goddard's Political Dictionary. Political Wire. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  5. ^ Kinsley, Michael (April 23, 1988), "Commentary: The gaffer speaks", The Times |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. ^ Friedman, Nancy (August 22, 2011). "Word of the Week: Kinsley Gaffe". Fritinancy. Archived from the original on April 10, 2012.
  7. ^ McKim, Brian; Skene, Tracy (January 17, 2012). "Brill makes a "Kinsley gaffe"". Shecky Magazine.com. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  8. ^ Smajda, Jon (October 23, 2008). "Michael Kinsley on the ritual of the gaffe". Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  9. ^ a b Kinsley, Michael (March 6, 2012). "Kinsley: Limbaugh and the hypocrisy of the gaffe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  10. ^ Amira, Dan (June 14, 2012). "A Taxonomy of Gaffes". New York Magazine. New York, NY USA. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  11. ^ Political Rhetoric, Explained - Steven Pinker. 14 October 2008 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ "Matthew McGregor Kevin Rudd Attack Dog, Mitt Romney Gaffe Video". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  13. ^ "Rudd flies in Team Obama". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  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. ^ "Spanish quote gets prince into trouble". DutchNews.nl. 9 November 2009. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  20. ^ Adam Taylor (11 January 2017). "San Escobar: How Poland's foreign minister helped create a fake country". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  21. ^ Associated Press (11 January 2017). "Polish FM Sparks Jokes With Mention of Nonexistent Country". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  22. ^ Victor Ponta a recunoscut in fata intregului popor roman ca PSD a furat!. 7 December 2009 – via YouTube.
  23. ^ "5 July 1945". BBC News. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  24. ^ "UK | Curse of the open mic". BBC News. 2001-01-29. Retrieved 2012-05-29.
  25. ^ Duke of Edinburgh: Five Decades of Prince Philip's Gaffes. 10 October 2013 – via YouTube.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Jimmy Carter's 'Lust in the Heart' Playboy Interview". The Washington Post. July 21, 1998. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  28. ^ "Dan Quayle's 'Potatoe' Incident – 1992". 1998.
  29. ^ Liberman, Mark (1 February 2007). "Biden's Comma". Language Log. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  30. ^ Lim, Christine; Stephey, M.J. (9 December 2007). "Top 10 Campaign Gaffes". Time Magazine. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  31. ^ Robin, Corey (March 29, 2015). "Joe Biden's Israel stunner: American Jews should let Israel protect them". Salon. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  32. ^ Prokop, Andrew (September 30, 2015). "A top House Republican was accidentally honest about the Benghazi investigation". vox.com. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  33. ^ "Head of House Benghazi panel says McCarthy 'screwed up'". Reuters. October 7, 2015. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  34. ^ "Hillary Clinton's Big Debate Gaffe: Bizarrely Linking Her Wall Street Donors to 9/11 Reconstruction". Alternet.
  35. ^ White, Ben (November 19, 2015). "Will Hillary's 'clumsy' 9/11 remark come back to haunt her?". CNBC. Retrieved April 23, 2016..com
  36. ^ Janell Ross (15 November 2015). "Hillary Clinton invoked 9/11 to defend her ties to Wall Street. What?". Washington Post.
  37. ^ Emily Jane Fox. "Hillary Clinton Still Can't Shake Her Wall Street–9/11 Debate Comment". Vanity Fair.
  38. ^ Andrew Freedman (15 November 2015). "Hillary Clinton's 9/11 moment was her biggest debate misstep". Mashable.
  39. ^ Graham, David A. "Gaffe Track: Hillary Clinton's 'Basket of Deplorables'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-02-07.
  40. ^ "Clinton Says Half Trump Supporters Are in 'Basket of Deplorables'". Time. Retrieved 2018-02-07.
  41. ^ Benen, Steve (April 22, 2016). "Kasich makes a mistake by accidentally telling the truth". Rachel Maddow Show. MSNBC. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  42. ^ Aleem, Zeeshan (April 23, 2016). "Health: Maine's Governor Just Said the Worst Possible Thing While Vetoing an Anti-Overdose Bill". The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  43. ^ Petersen, Lilli (April 21, 2016). "Maine Governor Blocks Addicts From Buying Lifesaving Drugs". New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2016. In his veto letter, LePage, who is a Republican, said that naloxone “does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose. ... Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction,” LePage wrote.
  44. ^ "The 37 Fatal Gaffes That Didn't Kill Donald Trump". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved 2018-04-30.

Further reading[edit]