josh (joshc) wrote,

William Safire on the president's drug abuse:


''The International Criminal Court is troubling to the United States . . . ,'' President Bush told reporters in Milwaukee. ''Our diplomats and/or soldiers could be drug into this court.''

First, Mr. President, lose the and/or. It's a legalism from the mid-19th century that not even lawyers should use because the locution is bookish and/or pompous. In most cases, or will do all by itself; in the previous sentence, and would also work by itself. In the rare case when neither conjunction alone conveys the meaning, recast the sentence: as Ted Bernstein put it in ''The Careful Writer,'' when ''the law allows a $25 fine and/or 30 days in jail,'' change it to ''a $25 fine or 30 days in jail or both.''

Now to the president's drug abuse. He is in error: the past participle of the verb drag is dragged, not drug.

Bush is not the first president I have taken to task on the use of a dialect form of a verb. In 1999, Bill Clinton said of the reaction of Republicans to his subsidy to local police forces, ''they practically swole up and died when it was passed.'' The standard English past tense of the verb swell is swelled, not swole. However, the linguistic scientist Steven Pinker pointed out that ''many Southern U.S. dialects preserve obsolete irregular verb forms like drag-drug and help-holp.'' He noted that swell was once an irregular verb, taking swole as its past tense, which is preserved in its participle and adjective form swollen.

Clinton's usage, therefore, had some historical linguistic resonance and dialectical support. Bush's drug, while used widely in most of the U.S. outside New England, strikes me as an unabashed solecism. (My zinger at his and/or was gratuitous; I just snuck it in.)

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