It’s a small point; really very small in the larger scheme of things: President Obama mispronounced the title “Corpsman” several times at a prayer breakfast, saying “Corpse-man” instead of the proper “Core-man.”
The usual suspects have criticized him for this error. My first impulse, however, is to feel a small harmonic quiver of empathy. How many among us have not made the error of mispronouncing something we’ve only read in books but never heard, or at least never paid much attention to? Terribly embarrassing, and not at all unusual, especially for the reclusive and bookish.
The left used to take great delight in reaming out Bush for saying “nukular” instead of “nuclear.” And yet that was a widespread regionalism, an acceptable and common pronunciation of the word in many parts of the country—just not the parts of the country in which the left ordinarily resides. They considered Bush’s pronunciation just another piece of evidence for the imbecility of his small and chimpish mind.
Obama’s “Corpsman,” however, is a far more idiosyncratic blunder. Although a small one, it is not entirely trivial, because it is almost perfectly emblematic of some of the deeper divisions between left and right. Perhaps Obama’s supporters might even consider it to be a badge of honor, because it is evidence of Obama’s career in academia—his bookishness rather than his real-life experience—as well as his ignorance of all things military. These are traits shared (and in some ways admired) by many in the left.
What’s more, it’s an example of Obama’s international outlook, which is another leftist plus. His childhood was largely spent away from this country; in some ways he is rather unfamiliar with the basic American vernacular and ethos, and has had to try to pick such things up as he goes along. Understandably, there are gaps. And, understandably, the military would be one of them.
You may think I’m making much ado about almost nothing. And indeed, I am. But I have noticed that, with a man as carefully scripted and controlled as Obama, who purposely conceals a great deal about himself, the gaffes and thowaway remarks can loom unusually large in helping to tell us what might be going on (or failing to go on) beneath the public persona.