Words Coined or Popularized by Presidents

February 10, 2017
Presidents Day allows us to put politics aside for awhile and celebrate the personalities that held the highest office in the land. There is perhaps no greater reflection of those personalities than the words they are credited with introducing or making popular. Here are several words that were coined or popularized by past presidents.

Learn more about the story behind these words in this article on our blog: And Now, a Word from the Presidents...
In an 1861 message to congress, Lincoln accused the southern army of the Civil War of sugarcoating their rebellion by claiming it was constitutional. At this time no one had heard the term sugarcoat before. The term was even objected to by the official government printer who was in charge of making a transcript of the speech. Over these objections, Lincoln predicted that “The time will never come in this country when the people won’t know exactly what ‘sugarcoated’ means.”
With rebellion thus sugar-coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years, and until at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms against the government.
- Abraham Lincoln
... there had been a verbal use of little, meaning “to lessen” or “to decrease.” What Jefferson did is take that verb and put the “be-“ from words like befoul and besmirch in front of it to introduce belittle, meaning “to make small,” and figuratively, to “scorn as worthless." The verb form of little has been lost, but Jefferson’s belittle lives on.
So far the Count de Buffon has carried this new theory of the tendency of nature to belittle her productions on this side of the Atlantic.
- Thomas Jefferson
The incident involves Jefferson and an immense block of cheese, a gift to Jefferson which was so huge that reporters had to find a word to to describe its sheer bulk. Mammoth comes from Russian mammot, an animal who rooted in the earth. The idea here is that this 4 ft. cheese disc displaced hefty portions of earth just like a rooting animal. It was, in a word, gigantic, or mammoth. Jefferson's reference to a "shew" means they wanted to put the cheese on display.
the Mammoth cheese is arrived here and is to be presented this day. it is 4 f 4½ I. diameter, 15. I. thick, and weighed in August 1230. ℔. They were offered 1000. D. in New York for the use of it 12. days as a shew. it is an ebullition of the passion of republicanism in a state where it has been under heavy persecution.
-Thomas Jefferson
Founding Father
Although the exact facts are unclear, Harding is credited with coining the phrase “ founding fathers” which one hears frequently, whether it be during election season or on television about Presidents Day sales.
It is good to meet and drink at the fountains of wisdom inherited from the founding fathers of the Republic.
- Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding introduced normalcy into popular use when he said it on the campaign trail, where normalcy is not the norm. “America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums [remedies] but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.”
America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums [remedies] but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.
- Warren G. Harding
H.L. Mencken on Harding: "He 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 of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is balder and dash."
Peter P. Low, Esq., will with open throat.. bloviate about the farmers being taxed upon the full value of their farms, while bankers are released from taxation.
John Adams popularized a term, quixotic, that denotes a mission that is “naively idealistic” fanciful and “whimsical.” The word is derived from Cervantes’ hero Don Quixote de la Mancha who imagines himself a brave knight while tilting at windmills.
Ten years ago, I wrote a book called Troublesome Young Men, about this quixotic campaign that helped change the course of history.
first lady
It may be an apocryphal story, but President Zachary Taylor is credited with coining the term first lady in his eulogy of Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, America’s fourth president.
She will never be forgotten because she was truly our First Lady for a half-century
- Zachary Taylor about Dolley Madison
Although his Vice President actually used the phrase, "nattering nabobs of negativism" is a phrase that followed President Nixon well beyond his resignation.
In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club — the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.'”-
Vice President Spiro Agnew
In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club — the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.'”
- Vice President Spiro Agnew
lunatic fringe
“The lunatic fringe was fully in evidence, especially in the rooms devoted to the Cubists and the Futurists, or Near-Impressionists.
-President Theodore Roosevelt
Washington didn't invent this word, but he was the first to use it to refer to a President's term in office.
In reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error.
- George Washington
Necessity obliges us to neologize.
- Thomas Jefferson
“In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; Who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.
- Theodore Roosevelt
You will see in the caption of the address that we have pruned the ordinary stile of the degrading appendages of Excellency.
- James Madison
Washington was the first to use "moment" to mean a time to act, an opportunity.
The present temper of the states is friendly to the establishment of a lasting union; the moment should be improved; if suffered to pass away it may never return.
- George Washington

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