Paul Greenberg

The policies Mitt Romney advocates might be quite new after four years of this administration, but his language is a golden oldie. By now, the retro phrases that punctuate his vocabulary have acquired a name of their own: Mittisms.

Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker, a couple of New York Times reporters, compiled an impressive list of them in a news story that ran in our paper the other Sunday. To run through them is to take a trip into the past:

When he fell in love with his wife, Mitt Romney wasn't just in love, he was "smitten." He doesn't just get off an airplane but "disembarks." In his world, crooks don't go to jail but to "the big house." People don't laugh but "guffaw," and they never hurl insults but "brickbats."

It's a vocabulary from a vanished America where people wrote letters, not sent emails, and kids hung out at soda fountains. After interviewing him, reporters might not be surprised to walk out into streets full of AMC Ramblers, bobby-soxers and even good manners. How dated.

Quaint would be an understatement for this presidential candidate's habits of phrase. The Times describes his language as "a rhetorical time capsule." This isn't to say the man can't be forceful. When riled, he's been known to mutter, "H-E-double hockey sticks." To quote the astounded speaker of the House in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor: "He actually said that. Who talks like that?"

Answer: Mitt Romney does. He uses "darn" as an expletive, as when he responded to a questioner in Kalamazoo, Michigan: "Darned good question!" Shocking.

The man is incorrigible. Not that he's joined the language police, but he will demur politely from today's casual obscenities. As when a Democratic state senator engaged in a little street talk in his presence, and Governor Romney responded: "Well, I wouldn't choose that diction." You'd think politics was bean-bag.

This could take some getting used to if Mr. Romney makes it to the White House. It'd be quite a change from Joe Biden, who has been known to confuse vulgarity with eloquence.

When the opposition warns that Mitt Romney is out of step with the times, they may have a point, but for those of us of a certain age and disposition, his Ivory Soap vocabulary -- 99.44 percent pure! -- would be a step not just back but up. That advertising slogan itself must date back to Radio Days circa 1944.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.