by Karl Kurtz
The late William Passannante, a long-time member of the New York Assembly and a former president of NCSL, once said, "Let's grab that bull by the horns and milk it for all it's worth!"
Politicians are probably no more likely to misuse the English language in amusing ways than any of the rest of us. It's just that so many of their words are recorded and that wordsmiths are listening to them and reporting on their oral missteps.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King, whom "New Mexican" reporter Steve Terrell calls the "Yogi Berra of New Mexico politics," once said of a legislative proposal, "That will open a whole box of pandoras." Once this image gets in your head, you'll never think of Pandora's box in the same way (or a box of cigars, for that matter).
"If the King's English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for Texas children," is often attributed to Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, governor of Texas, 1925-27 and 1933-35. But Benjamin Zimmer, writing for Language Log, has researched this phrase, finding that its origins go back to the 1880s and that there is no documentation that she said it:
...I highly doubt Ma Ferguson ever said it — or if she did, she probably would have said it in self-effacing jest. My guess is that this was a free-floating bit of preacher humor that unfairly got attached to Ma Ferguson, much as Winston Churchill attracts various apocryphal witticisms.
The oral gaffes of more contemporary Texans, including former House speakers Gib Lewis and the late Bill Clayton (mistakenly identified by his middle name, Wayne, in the quotes that follow), both of whom served on NCSL's Executive Committee, are documented on a web site, "Actual Texas Politician Quotes."
"Let's do this in one foul sweep."--Texas House Speaker Wayne Clayton
"I want to thank each and every one of you for having extinguished yourselves this session."--Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis.
"We'll run it up the flagpole and see who salutes that booger."--Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis
"There's a lot of uncertainty that's not clear in my mind."--Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis
That last one is matched by an NCSL Executive Committee member who once referred to "a future that has yet to reveal itself."