Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A New Word - "Outcheap" - and McCain's Unintentional Irony

On NPR this morning there were two items of linguistic interest.

The first was this interview with Joe White, the Detroit bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. White discussed driving a plug-in electric car, and in the discussion he used a word I've never heard before:

"The reasons why we don't have all-electric cars running around - and this goes back more than a century - is that battery technology simply hasn't evolved to the point where we can outperform and outcheap gasoline and the internal combustion engine."

The OED doesn't list "outcheap" as a word, but it's clear what it means: "to be able to be produced more cheaply than an alternative". It reminds me of a word my friend Jean-Paul once invented, as a translation for the French defenestrer: to "outwindow". He was disappointed to learn that "defenestrate" already existed in English.

I found some earlier citations using Lexis. An article in Crain's Detroit Business, April 15, 1996, quotes Farmington Hills retailing consultant Frederick Marx as saying , ''Anybody can add volume giving it away, and that's what it's becoming: a contest of who can outcheap each other.''

The second item was this interview with presidential candidate John McCain.

"One of the things that drove Harry Truman's decision to integrate our military was how shocked and angered he was by the lynchings of two African-American World War II veterans. Truman was certainly no - you know, he used racial epitats in private conversation, etc., but he believed that his oath to protect the Constitution made him responsible to protect the rights of all the American people."

Here McCain used the nonexistent word "epitat". He really meant "epithet", but was probably mixing it up in his mind with "epitaph", and so out came this mélange of both words.

Ironically, McCain also said, "Let's have some straight talk. Harry Truman was not the greatest intellect that ever inhabited the White House, but he had the right instincts, and frankly, he had the humility and inspiration to recognize that you have to suborn your personal ambitions for the greater good."

Here McCain demonstrates that he doesn't know what the relatively uncommon word "suborn" means. According to the OED, it has several meanings, but the ones that are most familiar are

  • "to use illegal or underhanded means to induce someone else to do a misdeed"
  • "to induce someone to give false testimony" (as in "to suborn perjury")

McCain probably meant to say "subdue" or "subjugate". I like the irony that he was calling Truman intellectually deficient while, in the same sentence, he exhibited some ignorance himself.


Anonymous said...

They've got page-a-day calendars listing verbal blunders by GW Bush. But I bet even the most eloquent politician makes more slip-ups than I do simply because I don't make a lot of speeches and I'm not often called on to make high profile speeches. So based on the volume of words uttered in public life, there's bound to be slip ups. I would almost be inclined to put the occasional blunder in the same category that contains lisps and stutters.

By the way, I'm going to try to use "outwindow" three times this week.

Anonymous said...

Re Harry Truman

Truman also insisted on a civil rights plank plank in the 1948 Democratic Convention platform, causing Southern delegates led by Strom Thurmond to walk out of the convention. Even though Thurmond ran as a third party candidate and won several southern states, Truman won the election.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that he had "subordinate" in mind.