"Yo, Blair, what are you doing?" is an informal greeting reportedly made by United States President George W. Bush to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations ("G8") in St Petersburg, Russia, on 17 July 2006. The quote gained wide popularity across the media.
Although the greeting was popularized as "Yo, Blair", American media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post transcribed it as "Yeah, Blair", while several British journalists, including Simon Hoggart and John Rentoul, have characterised the "Yo, Blair" transcript as a "myth":
- You would think, wouldn't you, that if you were going to take a widely-reported phrase as the title of your polemic against Tony Blair you might just check that the phrase had actually been uttered as reported? You might even listen to the recording. Top marks to Simon Hoggart [...] for drawing our attention to the fact that George Bush never said "Yo, Blair!" Listen to the start of his programme and you'll hear the President very clearly saying: "Yeah, Blair, what are you doing?"
In a comment on Hoggart's piece, Bryan Appleyard concluded that the "Yo, Blair" version became "entrenched as recorded fact" because it corresponded to the "perceived 'inner truth' of the Blair-Bush poodle-master relationship".
The "Yo Blair" text
There was considerable interest both in the "Yo, Blair" phrase itself and in the ensuing impromptu conversation which, although supposedly private, was picked up by a microphone. In the course of the exchange, Bush, among other things, thanked Blair for the gift of a sweater and, more importantly, referred to an armed conflict that had just broken out in Lebanon between Israeli forces and the Shi'a group Hezbollah ("What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit").
Transcript of the Conversation
Bush: Yo, Blair. How are you doing?
Blair: I'm just...
Bush: You're leaving?
Blair: No, no, no not yet. On this trade thingy...[indistinct]
Bush: Yeah, I told that to the man.
Blair: Are you planning to say that here or not?
Bush: If you want me to.
Blair: Well, it's just that if the discussion arises...
Bush: I just want some movement.
Bush: Yesterday we didn't see much movement..
Blair: No, no, it may be that it's not, it may be that it's impossible.
Bush: I am prepared to say it.
Blair: But it's just I think that we need to be an opposition...
Bush: Who is introducing the trade?
Blair: Angela [Merkel, the German Chancellor]
Bush: Tell her to call 'em.
Bush: Tell her to put him on, them on the spot. Thanks for the sweater - it's awfully thoughtful of you.
Blair: It's a pleasure.
Bush: I know you picked it out yourself.
Blair: Oh absolutely - in fact I knitted it!!!
Bush: What about Kofi? [Annan] - he seems all right. I don't like his ceasefire plan. His attitude is basically ceasefire and everything sorts out.... But I think...
Blair: Yeah, no I think the [indistinct] is really difficult. We can't stop this unless you get this international business agreed.
Blair: I don't know what you guys have talked about, but as I say I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is, but you need that done quickly because otherwise it will spiral.
Bush: I think Condi [US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] is going to go pretty soon.
Blair: But that's, that's, that's all that matters. But if you... you see it will take some time to get that together.
Bush: Yeah, yeah.
Blair: But at least it gives people...
Bush: It's a process, I agree. I told her your offer to...
Blair: Well... it's only if I mean... you know. If she's got a..., or if she needs the ground prepared as it were... Because obviously if she goes out she's got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.
Bush: You see the irony is what they need to do is get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's all over...
Blair: Dunno... Syria....
Blair: Because I think this is all part of the same thing...
Bush: (with mouth full of bread) Yeah
Blair: Look - what does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine. If you get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way
Bush: Yeah, yeah, he is struggling.
Blair: He's had it. And that's what the whole thing is about. It's the same with Iran.
Bush: I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to Assad and make something happen.
Bush: We are not blaming the Lebanese government.
Blair: Is this...?
[Blair taps the microphone in front of him and the sound is cut.]
"Yo, Blair" as a catchphrase
"Yo, Blair" or "Yo, [any surname]" almost immediately became a catchphrase in Britain. In her annual language report (2007) for the Oxford University Press, the lexicographer Susie Dent devoted over half a page to the term, including some of the references below.
When Blair rose to make a statement in the House of Commons on 19 July 2006, he was greeted with cries from the Opposition benches of "Yo!". A cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in The Sunday Times showed Bush in a rocking chair, dressed as a sheriff, directing his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "Yo, Condi. Better go check out that sh*t [sic]. Don't hurry".
This was the subject of a cartoon by Scarfe, reflecting on the Anglo-American "special relationship", in which Bush, atop scenes of devastation, disbursed unequal quantities of munitions for Israel and aid for Lebanon. A small, plaintive Blair looked on and, raising his hand, asked, "Yo George. I just wondered if I might have a word?".
"Yo Vicar": Private Eye
Predictably, the satirical magazine Private Eye began its regular spoof letter from the vicar of St Albion's parish church (the Rev. A.R.P. Blair, M.A.) with the greeting, "Yo!". The ensuing epistle contained a range of variants, "Yo, Running Scared", "Yo Vicar" and "Yo, Dubya" (the latter invoking a well established play on Bush's middle initial).
"Yo" as slang
"Yo" has been used as an exclamation to attract attention since the 15th century, as in the cry, "Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!" in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883). In the early 20th century "yo" was used in lower middle class British slang as a "declaration of admiration ... to the softer sex by the sterner". From the late 20th century it frequently appeared in hip hop music and became associated with African American Vernacular English and also Afro-Caribbeans.
Former British Government Minister Denis MacShane observed that "Yo, Blair" was the American equivalent of "wotcher, mate" and that metaphorically Bush and Blair had been addressing each other using the French informal tu ("you") (as opposed to the more formal vous).
Some commentators detected in the "Yo Blair" encounter an air of condescension on Bush's part. For example, former British Foreign Secretary and NATO Secretary-General Lord Carrington reflected that "Iraq, and more recently Lebanon, have totally sidelined us. We have far less influence than we had. That 'Yo, Blair' exchange ... was so humiliating". Towards the end of 2006 an analyst at the US State Department, Kendall Myers (who has since been charged with spying for Cuba), was widely quoted as claiming that, despite British efforts, "we typically ignore them - it's a sad business".
Following a meeting in Washington between Bush and Blair on 28 July to discuss the situation in Lebanon, cartoonist for The Times Neil Bennett, depicted, above the caption, "Gifts were exchanged before the Washington summit", a Burberry bag (an allusion to "Yo Blair") being swapped for a tin of dog food marked "Pedigree Chum". This was a reference to the charge of some that Blair had been acting as America's "poodle" (a metaphor which, though widely used towards the end of July 2006, had been used in British politics since at least 1907 (when David Lloyd George referred to the British House of Lords as "Mr Balfour's Poodle").
In May 2007 Bush denied that Blair was his "poodle", but remarked on his "dogged" style of leadership, while Anthony Seldon, who did an unauthorised biography of Blair, took the view that the episode at St Petersburg did not justify the conclusion that Blair was Bush's "poodle", nor that "subservience" should be "read into the initial salutation". Seldon noted that, when greeting Blair at the White House, he would typically welcome him with arms outstretched, yelling "Hey. Blair. How y'doing'?"
On Monday July 7, 2008 at the 34th annual G8 summit in Toyako, Japan, while speaking with Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, Bush summoned Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a brusque "Yo Harper!" Much like in the UK, political and public reaction has been divided between this being an indication of the close relationship between the two, the subservience of Harper or simply another example of the "folksy" disposition of Bush.
- United Kingdom as the 51st state
- Special relationship
- Anglo-American relations
- Foreign relations of the United Kingdom
- Foreign relations of the United States
- Susie Dent (2007) The Language Report: English on the move 2000-2007
- Rutenberg, Jim (17 July 2006). "Amid Pomp, Bush Is Pumped and Chat Is Candid". The New York Times.
- Aversa, Jeannine (17 July 2006). "Bush Utters Expletive on Hezbollah Attacks". The Washington Post.
- "BBC NEWS - Programmes - The Westminster Hour - Great Political Myths". Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- "“Yo, Blair” and other untruths from the archive". Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- "Bryan Appleyard » Blog Archive » Yo Blair?". Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- The Times, 22 July 2006
- "BBC NEWS - Americas - Transcript: Bush and Blair's unguarded chat". Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- Blair archive - Prime Minister's Questions
- Sunday Times, 23 July 2006
- Sunday Times, 30 July 2006
- CBC radio interview, 30 April 2007
- Private Eye, 4 August 2006
- Oxford Dictionary of New Words (1991)
- James Redding Ware (1909) Passing English
- Times, 22 July 2006
- The Oldie, October 2006
- London Evening Standard, 30 November 2006
- Times, 29 July 2006
- "A mastiff? It is the right hon. Gentleman's poodle": House of Commons, 26 June 1907. See also Roy Jenkins (1954) Mr Balfour's Poodle; R J Q Adams (2007) Balfour
- Anthony Seldon (1997) Blair Unbound
|Look up yo in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Transcript: Bush and Blair's unguarded chat (BBC News, 18 July 2006). A revised version was published in the Times, 22 July 2006.
- Jon Stewart analyzes the Yo Blair incident (2nd video on the page)
- Nick Robinson (2006-07-27). "The poodle factor". BBC. Retrieved 2006-12-16.
- Andrew Rawnsley (2006-07-23). "It wasn't the 'Yo' that was humiliating, it was the 'No'". The Observer (London). Retrieved 2006-12-16.
- Reuters (2006-07-18). "Yo Bush! Blair mocked as U.S. poodle". China Daily. Retrieved 2006-12-16.
- Ann Treneman (2006-07-19). "Yo ho-ho it's Blair live and unplugged". The Times (London). Retrieved 2006-12-16.
- Mary Riddell, The Observer, 25 February 2007