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10 Words That Spook Politicians

Even if you're a Rhodes Scholar, no one is the suppository of all wisdom.

02/08/2017 10:05 AM AEST | Updated 02/08/2017 3:06 PM AEST
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Sticks and stones may break their bones but words will often come back to haunt them.

Words are like 3D printers to politicians -- they can be turned into anything. Barack Obama wore his words like a velvet jacket, Donald Trump uses them as cannon balls, but to Australian politicians in the heat of the contest, words are sticks and stones.

They can also be ghosts. Politicians are haunted by many of the same words, most have their own 'achilles words' that they mangle, and some are inclined to pronounce words too correctly. Various reasons for certain-word-phobias include previous bad experience, being particularly gaffe-prone, accidental broadcasts or moments involving loaded words.

Pauline Hanson has special reason to be spooked. In 1996, '60 Minutes' journalist Tracy Curro set a trap when she asked "Are you xenophobic?" -- a word Ms Hanson didn't know. She put her foot in with "please explain"... and, gotcha -- never to be forgotten.

There are certain loaded words that politicians avoid saying publicly while hard-nosed journalists and opposing politicians are trying to goad it out of them. Julia Gillard was trapped by the words 'carbon tax'. Tony Abbott was uniquely numb-struck and fabulously silent for 24 seconds after Mark Riley door-stopped him on a sensitive matter.

In fact, gaffes and a chronic fear of them can manifest into instant nightmares. The best is Tony Abbott's 'suppository of wisdom' -- enough to warrant sleeping pills.

It might be the 'r' word, the 't' word or in John Howard's case it was the 's' word. Mr Howard did cartwheels to avoid saying 'sorry' to Indigenous people when most people knew it was imperative; and the stronger the pressure, the more he resisted.

But while Kevin Rudd capitalised on the tension and apologised, I can't recall him saying the 's' word to the Chinese after he suggested they were "trying to rat-f**k us." Rudd's nightmare pinpoints the ubiquitous fear that private words can be secretly recorded and later broadcast.

Politicians also have to be wary about speaking inappropriately around microphones. Peter Dutton was caught by the overhead microphone while joking about rising sea levels in the Pacific Islands, and in 1984 Ronald Reagan was caught joking on NPR that bombing of Russia will begin in five minutes.

But the most embarrassing words for politicians are the ones they can't articulate under the pressure of public gaze. Malcolm Turnbull's achilles word is 'children' -- he says 'chooldrin' and 'grand-chooldrin' -- it might be easier for him to say 'kids'.

Last year Jackie Lambie referred to the Russian President Vladimir Putin as 'Valdimir,' provoking thoughts of broomsticks and Harry Potter.

There is another angle to Malcolm Turnbull and his words -- the affectation that accompanies them. His elocutionary precision can give off an air of superiority -- his most cringe-worthy word is resolute, or as he says it, 'resolyute' which he says with unsettling correctness.

10 words that commonly haunt politicians.

Vulnerable -- we hear 'vunnerable' from most politicians. Given the subject matter it is one of the worst manglings.

Infrastructure -- this is a common and unavoidable word but what we usually hear is 'infastructure'. Perhaps it's one of those words that are easy to say in practice but not under the pressure of the public gaze.

Manufacturing -- to some it is amusing and others scary that players in such a high-stakes industry are more inclined to say 'mannerfacturing'.

Australia -- can politicians expect immigrants to be fluent when many can't even pronounce the name of the country they've been elected in?

Priorities -- this word is difficult for many when the microphone is turned on. But given how often politicians talk about their priorities it is one they need to get right.

Significant -- classic articulation tumbler.

Papua -- 'Papa New Guinea'? It seems that the nuanced inflection of the 'pua' is beyond the heavy tongue of too many of our elected representatives.

Future -- they are obliged to talk about the future but when they look into the telescope it is 'fewtcha' that usually comes out.

Government -- although this is a pretty awkward word, politicians usually say Guvvment or guvvament. They really should get this one right.

Premier -- watch for those who say 'Premiah'.

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