May 12, 2003
Overlooking The Obvious

Desultory reading may have solved a months-old problem. Remember all the abuse Bush got for referring to Greeks as 'Grecians'? Here is what the London Times had to say about it at the time (August 20, 2000), as quoted by Eugene Volokh this past January:

Bush has a propensity to mispronounce simple words and has invented others, such as "Grecians" for Greeks.

Volokh quite properly objects: although the usage is archaic and unidiomatic, "saying that the usage is simply incorrect is itself simply incorrect".

The following day, in a post pretentiously titled "Puzzle Solved", Mark A. R. Kleiman objected that the term can only be used of ancient Greeks, "as for example Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' or Dryden's translation of Plutarch's 'Lives of the Eminent Grecians and Romans'". Alluding to the rumors that Bush dyes his hair, Kleiman ended with smug mockery:

But that left a puzzle: Where did Bush find the word? It didn't seem likely that he'd been reading Keats or old translations of Plutarch. But now . . . we know where he saw it:

The label of his bottle of Grecian Formula.

Considering how much grief Bush gets for his Christian beliefs (not from any of the Volokhs, I hasten to add), it's odd that Kleiman did not mention a much likelier source, the Authorized or 'King James' Version of the Bible:

  1. The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their borders.
    (Joel 3:6)
  2. And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
    (Acts 6:1)
  3. And he [= Paul] spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. (Acts 9:29)
  4. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
    (Acts 11:20-21)

I don't suppose modern Greeks are too eager to be identified with these 'Grecians', who are slave-dealers (1), whiners (2), and very poor losers in public debate (3). (At least the fourth passage is fairly positive.) The 'Grecians' in the second passage appear to be Hellenized Jews rather than ethnic Greeks, and the same may be true of the third and fourth -- I don't have any commentary to hand --, but the Grecians in the first passage must surely be seafaring Greek traders. To sum up, in the most-admired version of the Bible, still read by millions of Christians, Grecians is a perfectly proper name for Greeks. It seems the likeliest source for Bush's odd locution.

By the way, I would not have noticed the Biblical usage myself if I had not sat down last week and read Joel, the most entomologically interesting book of the Bible: much of it is vivid description of a plague of locusts, cankerworms, palmerworms (whatever they are), and caterpillars.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at May 12, 2003 09:50 PM

there are many people in our think tank who come down on spelling in the same way that people come down on the president. Could you come to the think tank and talk to the people about this? The think tank is open to all people to help generate ideas on important topics if you would be interested in that too. We could really use all of your ideas.

Posted by: quanta on May 30, 2003 12:33 AM