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The orator's art

As you prepare yourself to be swayed by President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural address next week and the inevitable encomiums to follow, do not neglect the commentary on the efforts of the Republic’s previous statesmen.

“Gamalielese,” written in 1921 on the inauguration of President Warren G. Harding, makes a present to the reader of some of H.L. Mencken’s most gorgeous remarks on political oratory. One choice morsel:

“[H]e writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm (I was about to write abscess!) of pish, and crawls insanely to the topmost pinnacle of posh.”


* The essay was reprinted in the 1956 collection, A Carnival of Buncombe, now to be found in the Google Books electronic version, pages 41-45.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:28 AM | | Comments (1)


Wow, how did Mencken look 88 years into the future and read the bureaucratic policies to which I try to bring some semblance of order and grace?!

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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