Mighty Red Pen

March 18, 2009

Bush speaks: Authoritative vs. authoritarian

Filed under: Lit review,Word wars — mighty red pen @ 6:17 pm
Tags: , ,

This just in from former President George W. Bush, who is planning to write a book:

“I’m going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there’s an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened.”

Did Bush say authoritarian when he meant authoritative?

These words are markedly different: authoritarian means “requiring unquestioned obedience to authority, dictatorial,” as in His approach to discipline was authoritarian; he would brook no disagreement or discussion whatsoever. Authoritative has no pejorative overtones where it means “reliable, official, well-qualified,” as in She has written the authoritative biography of the poet. The only overlap is in the sense of “being fond of exerting authority,” but authoritarian is much the stronger in that meaning and suggests a less admirable quality. (Columbia Guide to Standard American English)

Or was this just one those, er, Freudian slips?



  1. Of course he has no idea what he really said. He’s an idiot. I wouldn’t give him a passing grade in my first-year university courses, even here in Japan, even for non-native English students, until he got the words right!

    Comment by SteveninTokyo — March 20, 2009 @ 8:21 am | Reply

  2. Fowler’s also sounds a warning. It begins (at least in my edition): “These two words should be carefully distinguished as their implications are quite different.”

    Comment by JD (The Engine Room) — March 23, 2009 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  3. On this one occasion, I am inclined to take the boy at his word.

    Comment by David — March 23, 2009 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

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