Mitticism: sounds like a portmanteau of Mitt [Romney] and witticism, right? But where are there examples of Mitt being witty?

Instead, the word refers to Romney’s verbal missteps, similar to Bushism and Palinism.

From Frank Bruni’s op-ed column “Huggability and Helium” in the NYT on the 28th:

My favorite Mitt Romney story comes not from his current campaign, though it has certainly yielded a bounty of priceless Mitticisms, but from his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy.

He’s at a convenience store near Boston, pressing the flesh, when he spies a woman about a dozen feet away. She exhibits no evident interest in his advance. He hustles toward her nonetheless, fleet of step and silver of tongue.

“Don’t run away!” is his smooth come-on.

She lifts her left hand, a gesture that could be a tepid, dismissive wave or, maybe, an attempt to cover her face.

“I know,” he says, sympathizing with her standoffishness. “You haven’t got your makeup on yet.”

She corrects him: she does.

“You do! You do!” he chirps, shaking her right hand with an almost manic vigor. “Good to see you!”

As she slips away, it’s not at all clear that she returns the sentiment.

Such performances aren’t slips of the tongue, or lexical or syntactic missteps, but mostly unfortunate candidness or failures to take his audience into account, a kind of tone-deaf cluelessness (“I like firing people”) — not linguistic failures per se, but social failures that are realized in discourse.

Mitticism has been used this way by other writers, though some take it to be more specific. Here’s the Democratic Underground site, which takes the word to refer to an annoying rhetorical strategy:

Mitticism: A response to a question that begins by appearing to answer the question and ends by explaining that the speaker doesn’t want to answer that question, at least not now, though there will be a time for that later.

For Romney’s characteristic gaffes, most people seem to use either Mittism or Romneyism. So Talking Points Memo offers

The Unabridged Guide To The Mitt-isms Of The English Language

and Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post writes about

The art of the Romneyism — Mitt Romney in Michigan, talking to trees

What goes into a Romneyism? [in Detroit] he informed everyone that one of his favorite things about Michigan is that “trees are the right height.” He has said this repeatedly.

I have no idea what this means. Neither, I suspect, does Mitt. It bears a resemblance to what on TV sitcoms is called chuffa — something that sounds sort of funny but isn’t an actual joke. Most Romney jokes fall into this category. They’re verbal clockwork oranges.

Now, of course Romney takes the usual slips that all politicians do when they’re not following a script. Some of the material on Bushisms and Palinisms is nothing more than this, though these politicians had their own personal brands of missteps that went beyond the usual slips of unscripted speakers talking on complex topics.

(Of course, there are sites with Obamaisms as well: for example, Daniel Kurtzman’s Dumb Quotes and Gaffes by Barack Obama site.)

In any case, Mitticism doesn’t fly as a portmanteau, but the portmanteau world for itt doesn’t end there. Here’s Gail Collins, in her NYT column “Renovating Mitt Romney” yesterday:

Ann assured the crowd that her husband had spent “countless hours helping others,” and although that was pretty vague, we do have other accounts of his good deeds, mainly for fellow parishioners at church. She also seemed intent on telling us that he’s a fun guy, full of Mittwit, but she failed to provide any examples of fun that were actually funny.

Collins uses Mittwit as if it were nothing but a compound of Mitt and wit (‘the wit of Mitt’), but she’s also slyly suggesting the word as a portmanteau of Mitt and nitwit.

Others have been more straightforward. Here’s blogger TexasDude50 on Daily Kos, for example, in an open letter to Romney:

Dear Mittwit,

The president’s enemies have given him no quarter since the beginning of the 2008 election. Since then he has been subjected to all kinds of vile attacks. He has been heckled while delivering a speech to Congress by a GOP Congressman.

His likeness has been hung in effigy. Your Party has obstructed his initiatives at every turn. His upbringing has been questioned, his birthplace has been disputed, and he has been called un-American. He has handled all of this with class and dignity that few among us could marshal under such circumstances.

Morphology (including portmanteaus) is often pressed into service as a weapon in political discourse. See Mark Liberman’s “Lexical Obamanations”, here, and check out the links in Ben Zimmer’s comment on this posting.


One Response to “Mitticisms”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    I can’t understand people who don’t know what he meant by “the trees are the right height”. He was saying that the place *felt* right.

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