Obama on That Awful Austrian Language

Barack Obama doesn’t know what the word for “wheeling and dealing” is in “Austrian.”

Naturally, this verbal faux pax is generating some good natured ribbing from Glenn Reynolds, Ed Morrissey, and others.  Kate McMillan awards Quote of the Week honors to Mark Steyn for “We now know that Barack Obama, who urged us all to learn a second language, does not speak Austrian.”

Morrissey observes that, “George Bush’s critics rightly roasted him for his tortured syntax and waterboarded grammar, and used it to make the claim that the graduate of both Harvard and Yale was an idiot.”  He’s responded by creating an “Obamateurism of the Day” segment.

While this sort of thing is mildly amusing, people — even smart people — make verbal gaffes quite often.  Public officials who make speeches several times a day, naturally, will make a lot of them.  Since these speeches are often videotaped and almost always attended by reporters, each of these slip-ups will be recorded for posterity.

They prove very little about much of anything but they’re nonetheless constantly seized upon by opponents as signs of, well, something.

FILED UNDER: Humor, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Yes, such a gaffe

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    When you travel to Europe to apologize for American behavior without visiting the only European ground held by the United States, that being in Normandy, it shows what a miseducation our leader has had. We must apologize for preventing the Nazification of Europe, the prevention of the spread of communism from the Soviets throughout Europe? I do not want the leader of the free world apologizing for anything. I wonder just how many more days we will have to suffer this fool?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Yes, such a gaffe

    “Austrian German” is, owing to shared borders of recent origin, closer to German than “American English” is to English. It’s no more than a regional dialect. In any case, it’s not simply called “Austrian.”

    The gaffe is a little less noteworthy, than, say Bush’s use of “Grecian” when he meant “Greek.” But neither are a big deal.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    After enduring the left’s ridicule of Bush for so long why not poke fun at the chosen one. After all, he ran on his smarts and ability to give speeches with the best of them. Bringing him back to earth seems appropriate.

  5. anjin-san says:

    I wonder just how many more days we will have to suffer this fool?

    Well, every time you speak, that is what a lot of us wonder…

  6. Criticizing The One is strictly verbotten! I think that’s the right word in Austrian.

    Perhaps it was a gaffe in passing. No way to know unless someone immeduately asked him what language the residents of Wien speak. Now that would have been fun just to hear the booing of the press corps. Or is it corpse?

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Sure, this is something that some people will make fun off (rightly so), but anymore than that, like some major “criticism”, reeks of desperation…meanwhile, ZR III continues to prove that Triumph isn’t the major purveyor of parody on this website…others who would try to be humorous could take a lesson from him…

  8. JKB says:

    For all the harassment of Bush for his mistakes in speaking, no one and especially not Bush himself, ever claimed he was eloquent or was a great speech giver.

    Obama, however, is touted as being eloquent and speaker extraordinaire. Not to mention his chastisement of Americans not being multi-lingual with the implication they weren’t familiar with the world. So the error while understandable is much more incisive.

    Add to this gaffe the increasingly obvious fact that Obama cannot speak well extemporaneously or without a teleprompter and you have a very schadenfreude moment. (that could be Austrian but I believe the word comes from German)

  9. just me says:

    Obama, however, is touted as being eloquent and speaker extraordinaire. Not to mention his chastisement of Americans not being multi-lingual with the implication they weren’t familiar with the world. So the error while understandable is much more incisive.

    I actually think this makes the gaffe worse with regards to Obama for this very reason.

    I do think it is pretty common for people to make these kinds of mistakes-even when they know the right terms, but I don’t recall Bush getting free passes.

  10. John425 says:

    Does Michelle Obama know her husband is such a cunning linguist?

  11. commenter “michael” tries: “Yes, such a gaffe,” with a helpful link to the various dialects of German, and attempts by the Wikipedia poster(s) to assert a sort of linguistic nationalism on regional speech.

    Nice try, though, through the miracle of a quick WikiPedia lookup. Not even President Neophyte, though he may see and understand all, is aware of cross-border regional dialects of German. As he apparently was unaware of cross-department fiscal policies.

    (Bad joke: When the phone rings at 3 a.m., who do you want answering it? An Alemannic or a Bavarian speaker?)

    Fact is, that unless Obama was insightfully playing up the separatist, identity-seeking whims of a small set of Austrian nationalists who are trying to impose a nationality on a regional dialect (which would imply a staff far more attuned to world issues than we have seen through such gifts as the US Region DVDs to Gordon Brown), then Obama just messed up, on the world stage, and in sublime ignorance.

    That really just makes Obama’s gaffe a data-point, but one not to be forgotten. After all, what’s next, him saying that Jews speak Jewish? (Please, don’t laugh. Consider the history to date.)

    When language becomes confused with dialect in Obama’s admittedly busy head, then perhaps bailout becomes rescue in same. And when a pol tries to wing it on the international stage (perhaps for him, international is anything outside Chicago or Hawai’i), it can really backfire, especially to a crowd in Europe that is ueber-appreciative of his, well, persona.

    And after the attacks of the past eight years on the “inarticulate” Bush II, Obama and his supporters like michael-of-the-quick-Wikipedia-lookup can simply look forward to more of the same response.

    /perhaps Obama needs an “Austrian” teleprompter next time he travels abroad