This past Tuesday in my literacy class, we were reading a newspaper designed for people who are learning English or just polishing their language skills. A number of theses students speak Spanish, and though none of them actually hails from Mexico, they are keenly aware of the suddenly resurgent American jingoism and its view toward immigrants. Still, we have shared some painful laughs at the new “president” and his musings on a whole range of issues. In fact, since the election we have talked about little else in the realm of world affairs. My students wonder, as I do, how this happened. Democracy, I tell them. It’s my cop-out answer for 2017.
Last Tuesday we were reading about the inauguration in that newspaper and we came to the oath of office. A common mistake for Spanish speakers is to replace the “th” sound with “t” or “d,” producing errors like tink instead of think, dey instead of they, and even “oat of office.” (I’ll spare you the linguistic explanation.) Again that evening we went through all the “tongue between the teeth” routines—like most topics it needs to be reinforced. One of my students watching me act out that tongue-and-teeth pantomime, tried to imitate the look and wound up with her upper teeth touching her lower lip: presto—Oaf of Office.
As soon as I defined oaf for them, and after I’d regained what was left of my composure, and after I’d then defined the words I used to define oaf—Neanderthal, yokel, doofus—we all had a good laugh. Of greater significance, and they had expanded their useful vocabulary, one which had already benefited by the previous addition of grope, bromance, tax evasion, and con-man.
Oaf of Office—if the term catches on it will doubly satisfying (and maybe even ironic) to know that it evolved out of a literacy class and was first spoken, albeit without rancor, by a person who arrived in this country seeking the life her new “president” was busily trying to revoke. If nothing else it has given me a new way of addressing the new “president” other than using quotation marks every time.
About the oath itself—if you remove this part, “and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”—which isn’t going to happen anyway, it makes a good tweet, more than suitable for an oaf, a yokel, etc.