The last Bushism?

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The "Bushisms" industry, mined so thoroughly by Slate's Jacob Weisberg for eight long years, is now a thing of the past. But Weisberg's colleague at Slate, Christopher Beam, got an exclusive scoop on a behind-the-scenes eleventh-hour Bushism when he managed to get into a farewell party for the outgoing administration on Sunday night. Here's what Bush told the crowd, according to Beam:

"I am glad we made this journey," he went on. Then he engaged in a little reminiscence. "Remember the time in 2003 when Bartlett came to work all hung over?" Laughs. "Nothing ever changes."
He continued: "We never shruck—"
"Shirked!" someone yelled.
"Shirked," Bush corrected, smiling. "You might have shirked; I shrucked. I mean we took the deals head on."

I can only guess that Bush had in mind such pairs as stick/stuck and strike/struck, and tried to apply the same irregular preterite formation to shirk. This type of innovation isn't entirely out of the question — consider the relatively recent arrival of snuck as a nonstandard preterite for sneak. (Bush made the added metathetic innovation of moving the /r/ into the initial consonant cluster.) When corrected on shruck, however, Bush quickly turned it into an absurdist joke: "You might have shirked; I shrucked." That vaguely reminds me of the "irregular verb" exercises on the British television show, Yes Minister: "I have an independent mind, you are eccentric, he is round the twist."

Bush's creative conjugating is also a bit reminiscent of the scene in 30 Rock's "Christmas Special" episode (discussed here by Eric Baković), where Tracy Jordan says to Liz Lemon, "What's the past tense for scam? Is it scrumped? Liz Lemon, I think you just got scrumped!" Shruck makes about as much sense as a past-tense form of shirk — though as far as I know shruck doesn't carry any salacious double entendres like scrump does. But perhaps it should.


  1. TootsNYC said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    I love Bush-ism. I think they're fun.

    And I like these sorts of conjugation errors; to me they point out the absurdity of some of our irregular verbs.

    I personally have caught myself saying "arrove": drive/drove; arrive/arrove.

  2. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

    Perhaps there was also some influence from the alternative possible phrasing "We never shrunk from [our duty/taking deals head on/whatever]".

  3. Matt said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    "Shruk" is also like "shrug" with the voicing contrast of the final consonant reversed and the two terms "shirk" and "shrug" have a vaguely similar meaning (e.g. in "to shrug off"). I wonder if this had any effect, though there's not really any way to tell. Perhaps this is an incidence of some unconscious portmanteux assembly?

  4. Rubrick said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    I think he conflafted two kinds of verbs.

  5. Don Fulano de Tal said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

    How could this 'someone' have known what he meant so quickly, instead of just being confused?

  6. Lazar said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

    Sometimes I've found myself wanting to use "mound" as the past participle of "mind".

  7. J. Taliaferro said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

    Several years ago, my friend told me his mom "froke out" when she found out he did something. We used that conjugation (if you can all it one) a few times for giggles.

  8. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

    @J. Taliaferro: Interesting; I, on the other hand, fruck out.

  9. nabetz said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    A friend of mine once blurted out, when i was on the way to the store and the door was about the close, "hey, remember to get fresh-squoze orange juice!"

  10. peter said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

    The irregular verb exercise you mention appeared on British TV at least a decade before "Yes, Minister" in, I think, "At Last, The 1948 Show". However, it appeared in print before it appeared on TV, perhaps long before.

  11. Mark P said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    nabetz, most of the online dictionaries I looked at don't have "squoze" but some do, defining its use as humorous. I have heard it many times used humorously.

  12. Philip said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 6:06 pm

    Beaver Cleaver: "Who wudda thunk it?"

  13. richard said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

    I think it's a "shirked/shrunk from" amalgam .. but this little game of trying to figure out what the hell Bushy was trying to say is one of those childish things I can happily put aside.

  14. chancelikely said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

    My girlfriend once said that she had made a mistake on a paper and then 'wote' it out.

    I'm with W. on this one, though, I think English would be more fun with more strong verbs.

  15. Randy said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    "I personally have caught myself saying "arrove": drive/drove; arrive/arrove."

    Plus, there's arise/arose. Certainly that must have made a contribution to saying arrove. Have you ever caught yourself saying arriven (after driven, arisen)?

  16. tablogloid said,

    January 21, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

    The late Dizzy Dean of baseball: "He slud into second."

  17. Joe said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 12:44 am

    He could have been mispronouncing "shrunk"

  18. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 1:12 am

    As far as "irregular conjugations" go, I am strongly biased toward "I am a careful writer; you are a purist; he is a pedant".

  19. Rick S said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 1:30 am

    I've heard "squoze" too, but if I'm not mistaken, only in the phrase "fresh-squoze".

    It's interesting to consider possible interferences causing this error:
    1. the participial adjective "fresh-frozen" (phonetic conflation)
    2. freeze/frozen -> squeeze/squozen (false parallel morphology)
    3. fresh-squeeze -> fresh-squozen (syncope + standard morphology)
    4. "frozen" and "fresh-squeezed" as complementary attributes for orange juice (interference from semantic field)
    That's a lot of interference across several levels of processing, but you'd expect "fresh-squozen", not "fresh-squoze".

  20. Roy said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 7:14 am

    Many years ago a coworker at a summer job cautioned me to wear gloves for some task we were performing, because on another occasion he had not, and "skun his knuckles" as a result.

  21. Mary Kuhner said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 8:29 am

    Winnie-the-Pooh says, "And a sort of squoze/ That grows and grows/ Is not too nice for his poor old nose." So it can be applied elsewhere than to orange juice.

    I find this word unremarkable in informal speech, but it looks extremely odd written down!

  22. Ben Teague said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 10:21 am

    We never guessed that W knew so many verb conjugations. Here (shirk/shruck) he is obviously channeling work/wrought.

    As for innovative strong verbs, consider the old quatrain

    I sneezed a sneeze into the air; / It fell to earth I know not where; / But hard and cold were the looks of those / In whose vicinity I snoze.

  23. Andrew said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 11:10 am

    Winnie the Pooh, though, was using 'squoze' as a noun, not as a participle. He goes on to refer to a squuch.

    On the other hand, 'praught' (for 'preached') is not unknown in church circles.

  24. TootsNYC said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

    @Randy: "Have you ever caught yourself saying arriven (after driven, arisen)?"

    Yes, actually, I have. Once.

    ("Arrove" has arrived in my speech about 4 times.)

  25. Keith said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

    My wife and I constantly derive new strong verbs. They are much more fun than the boring standard -ed. To trim – trum – trum, for example. It doesn't take very long for them to become familiar and in some way obvious. Actually I like Dubya's shirk – shruck – [?shrucken?]. And I think it's harder to come up with a convincing strong past tense form for 'shirk' if you don't have metathesis on /V-r/ > /r-V/: what would it be? shork – shorken? Naah. Credit where credit's due (poor guy, he needs some).

  26. Freddy Hill said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    2 young beauties get in a taxi in Wocester, Mass. asking to be taken to Boston. After a while, the driver, in an effort to make conversation asks, "so what are you goin' to Boston for?" The ladies respond, "We are going to get scrod", "Ah," says the driver, "I never did know the past participle of that verb!"

  27. Randy said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

    Proved/proven. The spell checker installed to Firefox flags "proven" as wrong. I do math for a living, so proofs come up daily, and I often have to correct myself, or stop my self from needing to correct myself.

    I can't make "arriven" work as a past participle, but arrove. I can't convince myself that's it's not a word, or shouldn't be.

  28. Andrew said,

    January 22, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

    'Proven' is unquestionably a word. It is used in at least two contexts; the Scots verdict of 'Not Proven', and phrases like 'a proven liar'. (Can one say 'a proved liar'?) Firefox is just uneducated here. Possibly it is not correct to say 'This has now been proven', though I don't think I would find it unacceptable.

  29. Sam said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

    Yesterday I found myself explaining to someone how I had 'wung it in the exam' (for 'winged it in the exam') completely unconsciously. As a matter of fact I then began wondering about how productive strong verbs still are in English, but yet again Language Log has beaten me to the point.

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