In a campaign season full of discordant notes, one moment in particular last week had approximately the same aural effect as pair of unclipped fingernails scratching slowly across a chalkboard.
The moment came near the middle of Thursday night’s debate, shortly after former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum remarked, apparently half in jest, that “grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich; he handles it very, very well.” The comment, or at least the half of it that wasn’t in jest, was music to our ears, as we’ve been waiting for someone to note this annoying tendency of former House Speaker Gingrich. What followed, however, was an affront to the English language.
Gingrich took the statement was a compliment. Boasting of his undeniably impressive efforts to win a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, he described the plan as “grandiose.” He went on to say that “I think grandiose thoughts,” and praised America as “a grandiose country.”
At the risk of sounding pedantic, an ever-present danger here at The Central Standard Times, we’re certain that “grandiose” was not le mot juste that Gingrich intended. The well-worn Random House Dictionary we rely on here defines “grandiose” as “affectedly grand or important,” or “more complicated or elaborate than necessary.” A third definition is “grand in an imposing or impressive way,” which is probably what Gingrich reaching for, but it is followed by the psychiatric meaning of “having an exaggerated sense of one’s importance, sometimes reaching delusional proportions, and occurring as a common symptom of mental illnesses such as manic disorder,” which is probably what Santorum meant to imply. Synonyms given include “pompous,” “overblown,” and “pretentious.”
Unless he intended his remarks as an homage to the comedy stylings of Norm Crosby, or was seized by a fit of honest self-reflection uncommon to politicians, Gingrich misspoke. A small error, one might well say, but one that illustrates two big problems we have with the candidate.
His use of the word, rather than the simpler, less grandiose choice of “grand,” is all too typical of Gingrich’s pompous, overblown, and pretentious speaking style. The great Mark Steyn, who handles the English language as well as anybody these days, has already noted Gingrich’s tendency to describe everything as “fundamentally” this or “profoundly” that, loading his remarks with enough adverbs to make what he’s saying seem smarter than it actually is. Gingrich’s many admirers gush about his verbal ability, but we expect that it won’t prove as effective with those not yet smitten.
– Bud Norman