George W. Bush: Lost in Translation?

Some interviews, word-for-word, can come across as ill-formed, awkward and vague

I was recently looking over a composite by the BBC of all George W. Bush’s worst “slip-ups” over the last eight-plus years. There are all the famous ones, most of which featured in Michael Moore’s famous movie. We learn that the human being and fish should coexist peacfully, that a saying in Texas is “Fool me, you won’t fool me again” and so on. It got me thinking.

While we were interviewing features for Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, we figured the best approach was to record each interview, so that we would be able to look over entire transcripts when writing a profile. What we learned was that, if you take, word for word, what someone has spoken and present it to the reader, it comes across as ill-formed, awkward and vague. So much in conversation is communicated through tone, gesture and an implicit understanding with the listener. All of this is lost in text.

When writing Kickstart, we needed to make sure the profiles were readable. That was our first priority. It involved a lot of editing, caressing, rewriting. (To avoid putting words in our interviewees’ mouths, we always made sure to show them the final copies to make sure we weren’t inventing anything – and they always signed off) Had we presented the mere interview transcripts, some of the most articulate people we interviewed (Hon. John Godfrey, James Orbinski, Lynda Haverstock, among many others) would never have comes across as well as they did in person.

All this to say that, perhaps, many of the best-loved Bushisms of the past era were often the result of a simple transcription. His message may (may) have been better expressed in person, to his audience. I urge everyone to be careful before passing judgment on someone based on a one or two-line quote read in the media. Often times, it lacks that great, important element known as “context.”