Robert  Charles

Instead of each unilateral White House directive being “officially” signed into law, the mound of executive orders piling up in the West Wing, and those boxes overflowing to the Lincoln Bedroom, were “officiously” signed into law. But that was just a big syntactical goof. This discovery explains everything, don’t you think? Instead of our White House maintaining an “official website” for Obamacare, they accidentally set up an “officious website.” That explains why they had to waive most of it. Instead of “official” IRS agents and oversight, we got “officious” IRS activity. It is so simple. Instead of “official assessments” on the debacles at Benghazi, Operation Fast and Furious, the Solyndra scandal, we ended up – quite by accident – with “officious reports.” What a mess, but what a relief, just word confusion after all!

No wonder this president last month described all of the administration’s missteps as “phony scandals,” his spokesperson insisting that “this is the most transparent White House in history.” He is simply embarrassed. There has been a profound clerical mix-up, a grievous grammatical error. That is all it is, but that is the reason so many internal reports, emails, and other items have been withheld –adolescent embarrassment. We need to get the person who made these transcription errors. Maybe it was Louis Lerner – or is that Lois? Maybe it was someone at the Veteran’s Administration. A lot of errors seem to come from there. Maybe it was a video made by some conservative English teacher or film producer. Anyway, everything official has rather awkwardly become officious.

But then, maybe this “word confusion” thing goes wider. Maybe, beyond “official” becoming “officious,” there are other systemic semantic lapses. Maybe, instead of the “most transparent White House in history,” they meant “most transgressive,” “most transfixed” or maybe just “most transcendent.” Who knows? Maybe, rather than promoting the “audacity of hope,” the President meant “audacity of dope,” “importations” not “deportations,” and Department for “vegans” not for “veterans.” Who knows where all this confusion ends? At least we can take a deep breath. It is just a big misunderstanding. All sorts of words seem to be losing their meaning.

Yes, in official Washington, words seem upside down these days. Orwell would be proud – he predicted it all. What words may mean on a given day depends on who says them, when and where. Tomorrow the meaning can change. Promises from the highest official in the land melt away, even the official ones. The triumph of insensible language is dawning. And everywhere, things that have always been trusted, All-American, cherry topped and official, seem busted, despair again, photo-shopped and – yes – officious. Maybe it is time to demand that words keep their meanings, from the US Constitution on down. What do you think, should we make that official – before it is too late?


Robert Charles

Robert B. Charles is a former US Court of Appeals clerk, litigator and adjunct professor at the Harvard Extension School. He served as Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, and presently heads a consulting firm in Washington DC.