Accessibility links

Breaking News

American Political Lingo, and a Candidate With Name Recognition

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: slang and idioms in American politics.

RS: Slangman David Burke in Los Angeles told us a story about one candidate who had no problem with name recognition:

DAVID BURKE: "Once upon a time there was a young girl named Cinderella who woke up one morning and thought, 'This village is boring. I have an idea,' she thought. 'I know how I can make changes in this village. I'll run for office. And since the incumbent is a lame duck' -- which is, of course, an elected official who has no reason to do the current job well because he or she isn't planning on being re-elected."

AA: "Or is about to leave office in a few months."

DAVID BURKE: "Exactly. 'And since the incumbent is a lame duck, I'll be a shoe-in,' she thought. And a shoe-in is a person who has a sure chance of being chosen. Well, suddenly a voice from behind her said, 'Not so fast, sweetie.' 'Who are you?' Cinderella asked. 'I'm your fairy godmother, but as of today I'm throwing my hat in the ring.' And that, of course, means to compete also.

"'Ha,' said Cinderella. 'I'll win by a landslide,' which means 'I will win easily and quickly.' And Cinderella added, 'Who's going to vote for a right-winger wearing pink high-heel shoes?' Well, a right-ringer is a politically conservative person in one's ideas and philosophies. That's right wing. And, of course, left-wing means you're extremely liberal.

And the fairy godmother says, 'Oh, really? I think it's time we go barnstorming and we'll see who sweeps this election.' Well, barnstorming, it simply means to make political speeches, because a long time ago politicians would go to little communities where there were barns and they would make their political speeches in front of barns."

RS: "From barn to barn."

AA: "Right, sort of a rapid succession of going from barn to barn."

DAVID BURKE: "Exactly. So off they went to begin stumping. Now stumping is the same thing as barnstorming. Stumping simply means when you stand on a tree stump to make your speeches. In a lot of communities that didn't have a lot of money to create a big area for a politician to stand to make speeches, the politician would simply get on top of a stump and make a speech. So they began stumping all over the village. They both pressed the flesh. To press the flesh means ... "

RS: "To shake hands."

DAVID BURKE: "We also say to glad hand. And they did nothing but grandstand for a week. To grandstand means to try a little too hard to impress an audience through speeches. But things got ugly when they debated together. Yes, the mudslinging began. Mudslinging means to insult and criticize each other. Sling is simply -- "

RS: "To throw."

DAVID BURKE: "Another word for 'to throw.' And the fairy godmother said, 'And who's going to vote for a pumpkin?' And, with that, the fairy godmother waived her magic wand and Cinderella was instantly transformed into a rather large orange gourd. Well, it was obvious at this point who was going to have the election all wrapped up. This is another political idiom, for to win for sure. But something strange happened at the polls. And the polls, that's the place where voters vote."

AA: "P-O-L-L-S."

DAVID BURKE: "Right, exactly, the polls, P-O-L-L-S, not P-O-L-E-S. So, according to the returns -- the votes -- everyone voted for the pumpkin -- I mean, Cinderella. Fortunately, however, in the crowd was Cinderella's political adviser, who is her staff spin-doctor. And, of course, a spin doctor means what?"

AA: "Someone who improves a politician's image."

DAVID BURKE: "Exactly. And, by the way, the spin-doctor just happened to be the village's prince. So the prince did what princes do, and what do princes do?"

RS: "They kiss the princess."

DAVID BURKE: "Exactly."

RS: And, so, Cinderella's image is saved. No longer a pumpkin, she and her adviser the Prince fall in love and live happily -- if not ever after, then at least until the next Election Day. The end.

AA: Another original tale for Wordmaster from Slangman David Burke, the author of many books on slang and idioms. You can check out his materials on his Web site --

RS: You can find all of our Slangman segments on our Web site, along with our other programs, at And our e-mail address is With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "What Did You Do on Election Day?"/The Foremen