Yo, Blair

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"Yo, Blair, what are you doing?" was 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.[1] The quote gained wide popularity across the media.

Phrasing[edit]

Although the greeting was popularized as "Yo, Blair", American media outlets such as The New York Times[2] and The Washington Post[3] transcribed it as "Yeah, Blair", while several British journalists, including Simon Hoggart[4] 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?"[5]

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".[6]

Yo, Blair! is the title of a polemical 2006 book by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, attacking Blair on various issues, particularly his relationship with Bush.

Meeting summary[edit]

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister, 1997–2007

There was considerable interest both in the "Yo, Blair" phrase itself and in the ensuing impromptu conversation. Although supposedly private, it 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").[7]

"Yo, Blair" as a catchphrase[edit]

"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.[1]

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!"[8] 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".[9]

George W. Bush, US President 2001-2009

"Yo George"[edit]

This was the subject of a cartoon by Scarfe, reflecting on the Anglo-American "special relationship". In it, 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?"[10]

"Yo George", the highly political first track on Tori Amos' 2007 album American Doll Posse, is a direct reference to the "Yo, Blair" incident.[11]

"Yo Vicar": Private Eye[edit]

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!".[12] 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[edit]

"Yo" has been used as an exclamation to attract attention since the 15th century.[13] 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".[14] From the late 20th century, it frequently appeared in hip hop music and became associated with African American Vernacular English.

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.[15]

"Pedigree Chum"[edit]

Former British Foreign Secretary and NATO Secretary-General Peter Carrington reflected, "Iraq, and more recently Lebanon, have totally sidelined us. We have far less influence than we had. That 'Yo, Blair' exchange... was so humiliating".[16]

Following a meeting in Washington, D.C. between Bush and Blair on 28 July[when?] 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".[17] That was a reference to the charge of some that Blair had been acting as America's "poodle", a metaphor that had been used in British politics since at least 1907.[18][19]

In May 2007 Bush denied that Blair was his "poodle" but remarked on his "dogged" style of leadership,[citation needed] while Anthony Seldon, who wrote an unauthorised biography of Blair, noted that when greeting Blair at the White House, he would typically welcome him with arms outstretched, yelling, "Hey. Blair. How y'doing'?"[20]

Harper event[edit]

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.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Susie Dent (2007) The Language Report: English on the move 2000-2007
  2. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (17 July 2006). "Amid Pomp, Bush Is Pumped and Chat Is Candid". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Aversa, Jeannine (17 July 2006). "Bush Utters Expletive on Hezbollah Attacks". The Washington Post. 
  4. ^ "BBC NEWS - Programmes - The Westminster Hour - Great Political Myths". Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  5. ^ ""Yo, Blair" and other untruths from the archive". Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  6. ^ "Bryan Appleyard  » Blog Archive  » Yo Blair?". Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  7. ^ The Times, 22 July 2006
  8. ^ Blair archive - Prime Minister's Questions
  9. ^ Sunday Times, 23 July 2006
  10. ^ Sunday Times, 30 July 2006
  11. ^ CBC radio interview, 30 April 2007
  12. ^ Private Eye, 4 August 2006
  13. ^ Oxford Dictionary of New Words (1991)
  14. ^ James Redding Ware (1909) Passing English
  15. ^ Times, 22 July 2006
  16. ^ The Oldie, October 2006
  17. ^ Times, 29 July 2006
  18. ^ David Lloyd George referred to the British House of Lords as "Mr Balfour's Poodle"
  19. ^ "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
  20. ^ Anthony Seldon (1997) Blair Unbound

External links[edit]

Press comment[edit]