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What Washington Politicians Are Really Saying


It sounds so nice.

“My good friend...”

It is what some members of Congress say about their fellow lawmakers.

But Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark offer the not-so-nice meaning. They explain the real meaning of “my good friend” and other words from American politics in their book, “Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs & Washington Handshakes.”

The authors say that members of Congress often use the phrase “my good friend” to refer to a person they do not like. The official may not even be able to stand the good friend.

Another example of words that mean something different than they appear is: “I want to spend more time with my family.”

Members of Congress often say this when they are resigning or giving up their jobs.

While it is true that members of Congress often spend many days away from their families, the authors say that politicians use this expression when they do not want to give the real reason they are resigning.

The real reason could be that they did something wrong, or they just found out that they are unlikely to win re-election.

However, some government officials say they really mean it when they say they want to spend more time with their family, McCutcheon and Mark added.

McCutcheon and Mark explained that words used by government leaders and politicians can be very confusing. They said their book is an effort to explain the hidden meanings.

Here are some other examples from their book:

Slow walk: Means to delay something from happening.

An example: When Senate Democrats brought up a bill to reduce climate change, Republican opponents demanded that every page of the 492-page bill be read out loud on the Senate floor.

Officials eventually voted on the bill, but getting there was a slow walk.

Revolving door: It does not refer to a real door that moves from the open to closed position. Rather, it refers to the common practice of going from a government agency that regulates a business to working for that same business.

Activists say that politicians cannot govern well if they are always passing through the revolving door between government service and private industry.

Washington handshake: The authors say this phrase describes talking to a person while looking over his shoulder in case a more important person enters the room.

You can be sure that when the more important person arrives, the discussion with the less important person will stop.

I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported this story for VOA Learning English. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on our Facebook Page. Do you use any words that have a different meaning to you than what the dictionary says?

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Words in this Story

whistle - n. a small device that makes a very high and loud sound when a person blows air through it. In this case, the authors are referring to words some politicians use to appeal to voters’ emotions

handshake - n. the act of grasping someone's right hand with your right hand and moving it up and down

confusing - adj. difficult to understand

regulate - v. to make rules or laws that control something

shoulder - n. the part of your body where your arm is connected

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