2005-10-20 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Public speaking – an executive challenge
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
Public speaking – an executive challenge

Sometimes I can’t help but feel sorry for the president of our country. Besides his myriad of political problems, he is the constant butt of late-night television jokes because he appears to be talk challenged. However, he doesn’t exactly have a corner on the market in that department. Just about every politician, president or otherwise, as well as other high profile people, have made a faux pas or two during the course of their public life.

For instance, even the great George W. hasn’t topped Richard Nixon’s, “This is a great day for France!” a televised, recorded statement made with enthusiasm while attending Charles de Gaulle’s funeral.

And nobody in the history of this country or any other has outdone the infamous Dan Quayle for World Class narrative nonsense. Try these:

“I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy. But that could change.” – Dan Quayle

“Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific. It is a part of the United States that is an island that is right here.” – Dan Quayle during a visit to Hawaii in 1989

“What a waste it is to lose one’s mind – or not to have a mind. How true that is.” – Dan Quayle addressing the United Negro College Fund

“I love California; I practically grew up in Phoenix.” – Dan Quayle

Those are classics that have been recorded in the annals of history as the most inventive political blunders since the beginning of language. And he did it without the aid of a speechwriter – extemporaneous eloquence at its best. Who’d have thunk it?

However, politicians aren’t the only people in high places who are guilty of an occasional slip of the tongue. A few corporate executives both domestic and foreign have approved of some boneheaded errors and decisions that go well beyond a harmless speech blooper.

How would you like to have been the president of Pepsi Cola when he learned that “Pepsi comes alive,” the Pepsi-Cola slogan at the time, translated into Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave?” I am sure an ad agency creative department meeting was quickly scheduled following that revelation.

Then there was a major clothing manufacturer who put labels on thousands of foreign-produced garments being sent to France that read: “Fabriqué en Dinde” (Made in Turkey). Turkey (the bird) is “dinde,” whereas the country is called “la Turquie.”

And let’s not forget about the Japanese hotel owner who approved the English printing of, “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid,” in the hotel directory. Do you think he was surprised by a sudden upturn in business? He was probably rewarded for his creative marketing strategy.

It would be almost criminal to leave out sports announcers when discussing bloopers and blunders unwittingly aired to an unsuspecting public. Try these two gems of sports history:

“Winfield goes back to the wall. He hits his head on the wall and it rolls off! It’s rolling all the way back to second base! This is a terrible thing for the Padres!” – Jerry Coleman, Padres radio announcer

“They x-rayed my head and found nothing.” – Jerome “Dizzy” Dean after being hit by a pitched ball.

Although the aforementioned blunders were embarrassing and sometimes costly to companies and stockholders, it’s still difficult to beat political bloopers for funniness. Like these quotes from the senior George Bush:

“I was shot down, and I was floating around in a little yellow raft, setting a record for paddling. I thought of my family, my mom and dad, and the strength I got from them. I thought of my faith, the separation of church and state.” (1987 – on his experiences in World War II)

“It’s no exaggeration to say the undecideds could go one way or the other.” (1988 – during a campaign rally) “I’m all for Lawrence Welk. Lawrence Welk is a wonderful man. He used to be, or was, or, wherever he is now, bless him.” (1989 – not sure if musician Welk was alive or dead)

And he wonders why he wasn’t elected for a second term. Although, we must admit, those quotes do support that old adage, “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”

As I said, Bush and son did not corner the errant political speech market. Try this from Frank Licht, the governor of Rhode Island, when campaigning for George McGovern in 1972: “Nixon has been sitting in the White House while George McGovern has been exposing himself to the people of the United States.”

After all has been said and done about words that cannot be retrieved, Buck Henry summed it up best when he said, “We need a President who’s fluent in at least one language.” I guess it’s just part of that system that we’re never gonna understand.

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