1.’My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (35th President), 1961-1963.

2.’If I were two-faced – would I be wearing this one?’
Abraham Lincoln (16th President) 1861-1865

3.’There is a homely old adage which runs: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.”‘
Theodore Roosevelt (26th President) 1901-1909

4.’Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt’
Herbert Hoover (31st President) 1929-1933. President during the Great Depression.

5.’The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd President) 1933-1945. The President whose ‘New Deal’ tackled the Great Depression.

6.’Washington DC is twelve square miles bordered by reality’
Andrew Johnson (17th President) 1865-1869. The President who bought Alaska from the Russians.

harrystruman1_2740563k-large7.’You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.’
Harry S Truman (33rd President) 1945-1953. Truman is pictured here with the infamous copy of the 1948 Chicago Tribune, published early on election night, with the mistaken headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

8.’You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.’
Abraham Lincoln (16th President) 1861-1865

9.’I can’t deny I’m a better ex-President than I was a President.’
James Earl Carter Jnr (39th President) 1977-1981

10.’I know only two tunes: one of them is Yankee Doodle – and the other isn’t.’
Ulysses S Grant (18th President) 1869-1877

11.’This is a Government of the people by the people and for the people no longer. It is a Government of Corporation by Corporation and for Corporation.’
Rutherford B Hayes (19th President) 1877-1881

12.’I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency – even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.’
Ronald Wilson Reagan (40th President) 1981-1989

13.’It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one’
George Washington, 1st President (1789-1797).

14.No one ever listened himself out of a job.’
Calvin Coolidge (30th President) 1923-1929.

15.’Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?’
George W Bush (43rd President) 2001-2009

16.’It was involuntary. They sank my boat.’
(asked how he became a war hero)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK, 35th President), 1961-1963

There were more of these witticisms on the website of but I picked up only these  – maybe because I associate them with what I saw (and keep seeing) in my life. You start reading John F. Kennedy’s famous words about putting “duty before self” (see No 1) and you feel that it’s impossible to “think high” when every day brings evidence of greed and corruption on the part of those who rule Ukraine. Even when they step down, our ex-presidents cannot apply Jimmy Carter’s jocular words (No 9) to themselves: crowds in the streets of Kyiv used to chant to Viktor Yushchenko “Judas, Judas” (meaning Judas Iscariot) long after he ceased to be President. You can only give a sad smile when you read Herbert Hoover’s one-liner about the national debt (No 4), or what Rutherford B. Hayes said about a government (No 11) – just  “Ukrainian” situations. President Ronald Reagan’s joke about sleeping in the Cabinet’s meeting (No 12) makes me think about the senile Leonid Brezhnev who used to sleep while reading his speeches from the rostrum (he could read the same page twice without noticing that it was the same text). As for the Bushism under No 15 (still I think that it was a slip of the tongue), quite a number of similar “isms” were picked up in impromptu talks of each of the Ukrainian presidents, especially in those of Viktor Yanukovych.

Linguistically interesting is Calvin Coolidge’s No one ever listened himself out of a job. (No 14). It contains the verb “to listen” used with an additional component of movement (change of state), as may be observed in phrases of the type: “to whistle out of the station (about a train)”, “to sing oneself into fame”, etc. A useful example for seminars in English lexicology!  🙂 It is hard to find a parallel in the Ukrainian language, but I think I remember one. As a child, I was frowned upon when I whistled in the room: old people in my village believed that money, if any, could disappear out of the household if you whistled inside the house (I’m not sure whether this prejudice keeps nowadays). The reproof sounded like “висвистиш із хати всі гроші” (“you’ll whistle all the money out of the house”). A good example of cross-cultural linguistics, I presume.


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