Linguistics; lying; Ozark English; Bill Clinton

I promised to post separately on Clinton’s infamous “I didn’t have sex with that woman” statement, ordinarily characterized as a lie, and I think I’ll get that done this morning. What I’m about to say may make you want to yell at me; I regret that. Yell gently, please; I’m only talking about language. Not morals, not the presidency, not sexual behavior, not politics, not religion, just language.

6strings commented:

“Unfortunately, I think Clinton chose an entirely inappropriate tack for dealing with the Lewinsky matter. It wasn’t a matter of treason, so ‘none of your business!’ was the only appropriate answer to the nosiness of the public and members of Congress.”

I agree that the way he dealt with it was inappropriate; he should have refused to discuss it. Period. For one thing, that was his obligation to Monica Lewinsky and to his family. For another, it was his obligation as a role model. I’m sorry he didn’t do that. But since he did….

When I was young, “having sex” meant only one thing — traditional sexual intercourse — and we called it “going all the way.” Those who hadn’t gone all the way, no matter how elaborate the array of other activities they had participated in, considered themselves to be speaking the truth when they referred to themselves as virgins, and would have been outraged at any suggestion that they weren’t entitled to that status. I have no idea whether that was true nationwide, but it was absolutely true in rural Missouri (where I grew up) and rural Arkansas (where Clinton grew up). So far as I know, it’s still true in both of those areas for everyone forty or older. [It may be different for younger people; I don’t know.] For me, therefore, when Clinton said “I didn’t have sex with that woman” he was not lying.

It was a stupid thing to say; it provided those who opposed him with one of the most magnificent trashing opportunities of all time. There was no chance that his opponents and enemies would apply Miller’s Law, assume that what he said was true, and discuss it in a neutral fashion until his Ozark English definition for the phrase “having sex” was clear to them and to the nation.

I’m aware that if that had happened the next line in the script would have been, “Well, then, what DID you do with her??!” So perhaps it would have made no difference in the long run…..