Rep. Gohmert's asparagus

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Luke Johnson, "Louie Gohmert Goes Off On Eric Holder At House Hearing", Huffington Post 5/16/2013:

A visibly infuriated Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) tore into Attorney General Eric Holder after his time expired in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday.  [...]

"I cannot have a witness challenge my character," said Gohmert, as the chairman told him again that his time had expired. Gohmert continued talking as other members of the committee asked him to observe hearing rules and suspend.

Gohmert asked again for a point of personal privilege and said that Holder was "wrong on the things that I asserted as fact." The other members of the committee disputed that his contention was a point of personal privilege.

"The attorney general will not cast aspersions on my asparagus," said Gohmert, in a malapropism for the ages.

Here's the audio from the crucial passage, beginning about 4:10 into the C-SPAN clip embedded in the HuffPo story:

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I can't make out anything (of the crucial phrase) except "…((cast)) aspersions on my asparagus".

When I first heard this, I wondered whether it was some kind of down-home idiom. But I haven't been able to turn up any evidence for this view, so apparently it's just an unexpected Fay-Cutler malapropism for "cast aspersions on my character".

Update — In the comments, Dick Margulis and Jon Weinberg present evidence that this was in fact an idiom choice and not a speech error; and Cameron Majidi locates the locus classicus (though of a slightly different form of the joke).

I missed this reference myself, but it's definitely a symptom of the Decline of the West that nobody at the Colbert Report, the Washington Post, or The Guardian caught it.



17 Comments

  1. Dick Margulis said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 8:03 am

    I believe the correct thing to cast on asparagus is well-rotted horse manure (cow, if horse is unavailable). I don't know anything about Mr. Gohmert's style of speaking, general articulateness, wit, or gardening acumen. So I don't want to suggest that he was intentionally equating the aspersions he claimed were cast to horseshit, but the possibility exists.

  2. William Berry said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 8:14 am

    As a Texan pro-business Repub, maybe he just has veggie-libel law stuck in his brain.

  3. Jon Weinberg said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 8:22 am

    More data: here's Gohmert in a House of Representatives hearing in 2007:

    CONYERS: Does Judge Louie Gohmert want to go before Lamar Smith?

    GOHMERT: Well, I believe I would like to do that, since I've had aspersions cast on our asparagus in East Texas.

    He went on to present a defense against the claim that plaintiffs in patent cases from all over the country sought to file suit in plaintiff-friendly Marshall, Texas; he protested that "these are not, you know, back woods judges."

  4. GFA said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    To pick a nit: Gomert's utterance doesn't appear to fit the criteria for a Fay-Cutler error, at least as such errors were described in the earlier post linked to in the post:
    "a Fay-Cutler-type speech error: same number of syllables, same stress pattern, same lexical category, same first and last syllables." The pairing
    'Character' + 'asparagus' only meets the second of these four criteria, I think.

    [(myl) I'd say that this word substitution meets three of the four conditions literally, and perhaps meets the spirit of the fourth:

    1. Rep. Gohmert elides the first syllable of "asparagus", so that as he pronounces it, it has the same number of syllables as "character";
    2. Both have antepenultimate stress, as you observe;
    3. Both are singular common nouns, so the lexical category condition is met;
    4. ['spæ.rə] and ['kæ.rə] are rhyming trochaic feet, which approximates the spirit of the fourth condition.

    But Jon Weinberg's citation suggests that the usage is, as I first guessed, idiomatic — perhaps some amalgam of the Fay-Cutler similarity and the pragmatic resonances that Dick Margulis explained.]

  5. Theophylact said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    My wife often says "I don't want to cast asparagus" on someone, but it's an old family joke, not a malapropism. Probably more than one family has the same joke.

  6. Eric P Smith said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    My guess, too, is that it is idiomatic. One often hears "casting nasturtiums" as a deliberately humorous malapropism for "casting aspersions" and I suspect that Gohmert's phrase is similar. Perhaps it is used in his family and he doesn't realise how idiosyncratic it sounds. Maybe there is something about the word 'aspersions' that invites such humour.

    In a similar phonological vein, I have Aspergers Syndrome and I often get "Asparagus Syndrome" (which I don't mind in the least).

  7. Cameron Majidi said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    "cast asparagus on" as an intentional malapropism has its locus classicus in a Three Stooges bit. I don't remember the name of the film.

    [(myl) It's Busy Buddies (1944), on YouTube here.]

  8. Adam Funk said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

    I believe the correct thing to cast on asparagus is well-rotted horse manure (cow, if horse is unavailable).

    I would've said hollandaise, but I've never tried growing the stuff myself.

  9. Tom V said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

    "Aspersions" seems to attract phrases like this.
    Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise: He's been a long time in the firm and doesn't like any nasturtiums cast at it.
    I can't remember the source, but some English mystery novel from around 1930 refers to asparagus as "grass", specifically "English grass". It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was meant.

    [(myl) The OED's etymology note:

    Etymology:  Latin, < Greek ἀσπάραγος , properly ἀσϕάραγος , of doubtful origin. In medieval Latin often sparagus , sparagi (Old Italian sparagi , sparaci ), found in English c1000. Thence also modern Italian sparagio , German spargen , Middle French esperage , and English sperage , the common name in 16th and early 17th cent., occas., from etymological notions, made sperach (after smallache , smallage , etc.: see ache n.2), or sparage. About 1600 the influence of herbalists and horticultural writers made asparagus familiar, and this in the aphetic form 'sparagus at length displaced sperage, but was itself by popular etymol. corrupted before 1650 to sparagrass, sparrow-grass, which remained the polite name during the 18th cent. Botanists still wrote asparagus, but according to Walker Pron. Dict. 1791, ‘Sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry.’ During the 19th century asparagus returned into literary and polite use, leaving sparrow-grass to the illiterate; though ‘grass’ still occurred in cookery books.

    ]

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

    So Rep. Gohmert didn't want anyone to dis-sperage his asparagus?

    I think "casting nasturtiums on my asparagus" has a future, sort of like piling Pelion on Ossa.

  11. Eric P Smith said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

    But I think Gohmert's humour was too subtle for his audience. Casting nasturtiums before swine, painted like Solomon in all their glory.

  12. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 12:26 am

    Jonathan Lighter's Historical Dictionary of American Slang has examples of "cast asparagus" going back to a 1916 letter by John Dos Passos ("Don't think that I'm 'casting asparagus' at your letter"). Lighter calls it an "intentional malapropism."

  13. maidhc said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 2:34 am

    If he's quoting the Three Stooges, he goes up in my estimation, but his complaint doesn't get taken so seriously.

  14. Ben Rosenberg said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 8:57 am

    Is it too bad a joke to call it a "Jay" Cutler malapropism instead?

  15. KathrynM said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

    Tom V, I'm pretty sure the "English grass" reference you are thinking of is also from the Wimsey canon–in a scene in which Parker notices that even when talking about his beloved subject of food Wimsey is not his usual self. Might be /Strong Poison/.

    [(myl) I think it's Unnatural Death.]

  16. CuConnacht said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

    I worked in a fruit and vegetable market in NYC about 1963 and "grass" seemed to be the normal way of referring to asparagus in the trade, but I am drawing on a very small sample.

  17. KevinM said,

    May 21, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

    I've heard it called "sparrow grass" in all seriousness.

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