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Word salad? 言语混乱

中国日报网 2024-01-12 13:52


Reader question:

Please explain “word salad”, as in this headline: Joe Biden produces ‘incomprehensible word salad’.

My comments:

“Incomprehensible” explains it.

Says it all, in fact.

Joe Biden said something that nobody could comprehend.

Joe Biden is the President of the United States. He’s known for mumbling and swallowing words. He’s close to eighty years of age. So perhaps it’s understandable.

In researching for this article, I’ve come up with this piece of word-salad gem from Joe Biden, “trunalimunumaprzure”.

As it turned out, according to the official transcription, what he meant to say was: “true international pressure.”

Well, without the official explanation, no reader would have been able to understand that, and rightly so.

That was from 2020. Joe Biden was 77-years-old then. Like I said, perhaps it’s all understandable. People old in age are prone to mumble and wax lyrical and incomprehensible.

Anyways, back to “word salad”.

As you may guess, word salad is inspired from a plate of salad in the kitchen.

Salad, by definition, is a cold dish made by mixing a whole bunch of chopped vegetables of meats and vegetables. You can put anything in.

A word salad, hence and by extension, is a mixture of words and phrases that are not really connected, hence making the speech incomprehensible.

The reasons for it are numerous, e.g. old age, as I said, or nervousness or drunkenness, etc.

Whatever the case, word salad is incomprehensible. It is gibberish. It is mumbo jumbo.

It is nonsense.

And here are media examples:

1. Politics aside, a fair observer of Donald Trump’s public appearances has to acknowledge that the president’s spontaneous speech is quite often bumbling, tangential, and bordering on the nonsensical.

Put these words in the mouth of a party guest or a colleague during a Zoom meeting, and people may roll their eyes, snicker, or feel pity, assuming the person is drunk, distracted, or otherwise not quite all there. Put his words in the mouth of a child, and it may prompt a hurried call to the nearest speech-language pathologist to schedule an assessment.

Now, notwithstanding the fact that political leaders are supposed to be able to think and communicate clearly and responsibly as part of their job description in a democracy, occasions of rambling and incoherent speech are not political crimes or sins, nor signs of corruption or inherent incompetence. Misspeaking in public is neither an illness nor a character flaw. We’ve all been there ourselves, caught unprepared or tongue-tied, having missed our last train of thought, and we've seen our leaders there before, too. Speaking (or tweeting) badly is far from the worst thing a politician can do.

A reasonable, rational (and healthy) response to such occasions, from the politician and his political supporters, would have been to own the facts, apologize, offer a correction and clarification, and get on with the work, or at least acknowledge the tendency toward slippage, deem it regretful yet ultimately benign, and crack some self-deprecating joke about it. The president likes to riff, and with that comes the known risk of stumbling into the inscrutable. Now let’s get on with doing the people’s important business.

But Trump and his ardent core supporters have taken another route altogether. Whenever he’s caught in another obvious incoherent fumble, they lash out at the press, the media, the deep state, or some other external entity, deny it happened altogether, deny again, or deny it was the bungle it clearly was, insisting his word salad was, in fact, steak.

That reaction, rather than the bumbling itself, manifests a core corruption of Trump and his cultists – the rabid insistence that gibberish is poetry, that covfefe is a real word, albeit secret: that, in other words, the leader's obvious faults do not in fact exist.

Politics aside, to the honest outside observer, that reaction seems both unnecessary and ineffective. And it begs for an explanation. So, what is it that compels Trump and his enablers to deny the clear evidence of our ears? To treat utter nonsense with fawning reverence?

- Emperor’s New Words: Trump Insists Word Salad Is Steak, PsychologyToday.com, May 2, 2020.

2. Former president Donald Trump struggled with coherent sentences at a rally in Texas on Saturday prompting backlash on social media for his “word salad.”

At one point in the Save America rally, Mr Trump said: “They censor, cancel and persecute ordinary citizens for speaking the truth while they ... drown your endless torment of ... I mean, what they do ... ”

In another instance he urged people to go and buy Victor Dais Hanson’s book “The Case for Donald Trump” and said, “Can you believe what’s happening? You can’t get anything”.

“The shelves are empty. I did a book. They can’t publish it anymore. They can’t get the paper, the glue, the ink. Go out and buy it. You’ll like it.”

He also referred to Mr Hanson as Victor “David” Hanson while calling him a “great historian” and philosopher.

The former president also failed to pronounce “Mexico” correctly, referring to the country as “Mexelco” instead.

He also appeared to lose his train of thought at one point in the speech and said, “this is incredible,” and then added, “But their sinister faces of corruption, lawless...”

- Trump mocked for complaining there’s no glue for his new book, Independent.co.uk, January 31, 2022.

3. Kamala Harris served up another baffling word salad as she claimed ‘this is the most election of our lifetime’ while mangling an attack on Donald Trump.

It came as Democrats accused Trump of echoing Adolf Hitler by saying migrants are ‘poisoning the blood of our country,’ a phrase that appears in the Nazi dictator’s 1925 manifesto Mein Kampf.

Speaking to MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, the Vice President said: ‘You know, every election cycle we talk about this is the most election of our lifetime.’

Harris went on: ‘Lawrence, this one is, this one is. We are literally talking about people who are attempting to divide our country in the most crude, frankly, and profound way. We are talking about those who are intent and purposeful to, to attack fundamental freedoms.’

Harris concluded: ‘The freedom to be free from fear of violence and hate … the freedom to just … be. The freedom to just be.’

- Kamala serves up ANOTHER word salad: Vice President says this is ‘the most election of all time’ while responding to Trump’s ‘poisoning the blood of our country’ remarks, DailyMail.co.uk, December 20, 2023.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣   编辑:丹妮)


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