Quote: “This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence.” President Bush on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Figure of Speech: hyperbaton (hy-PER-ba-ton), the word-order shift. From the Greek, meaning “to step over.”
Want to tell when a politician is uncomfortable with his own words? Watch for departures from his usual syntax. Instead of showing confidence in the attorney general, today’s quote betrays a lack of confidence.
A confident Bush would have said, “This is an honorable man. I have confidence in him.”
Instead, he employs an awkward word order that grammarians use to avoid dangling a participle (“in whom I have confidence”). And he adds a protests-too-much “honest.” Sure, some speechwriter may have fed him those words. But Bush is a famously stern editor. He insists on simple, direct, not necessarily grammatical sentences. Except when he doesn’t.
Polish that resume, Berto.
Snappy Answer: “He’s the sort of crony whose incompetence up with which you too much put.”
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