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Gingrich Goes Grandiose... What That Tells Us About Him Gingrich Goes Grandiose... What That Tells Us About Him

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Blogs / CAMPAIGN 2012

Gingrich Goes Grandiose... What That Tells Us About Him

Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a†South Carolina Republican presidential primary night rally, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

January 26, 2012

There is something quintessentially Newtish about Gingrich's gleeful embrace of the word "grandiose" on the campaign trail in Florida today. On one hand it is evidence of one of Newt's great strengths, that debater's agility at taking a criticism and redirecting it at his questioner. BAM! In this case it was Rick Santorum who, at the Jan. 19 debate in South Carolina, declared that "grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich" and went on to question whether he was reality-based and stable enough to be president. Newt just smiled and said, "You're right, I think grandiose thoughts .... "I spent 16 years on a grandiose project called creating a Republican majority in the House." 

Then he trounced Santorum in the primary.

Vying for the lead a week later in Florida, Gingrich has decided to paste the word across his ample abdomen. Now, apparently, he's the G-Man. At Cocoa, on Florida's "Space Coast," he declared: "I accept the charge--I am American and Americans are instinctively grandiose."  Gingrich then proposed a permanent moon base by 2020 (without saying he would pay for it, of course, at a time when he and his fellow Republicans want to cut education and public services here on Earth).

Even more grandiosely, he compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and John F. Kennedy.

But in running with the word, Gingrich is also willfully ignoring its pejorative sense --which has gradually come to be the more accepted connotation, says Ben Zimmer, a linguist who formerly authored the "On Language" column at the New York Times and chairs the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. That is to say, to be "grandiose" means one is delusional about one's importance, and exhibits behavior "characterized by affectation of grandeur or splendor or by absurd exaggeration," according to Merriam-Webster.

The word, says Zimmer, "has swung towards the negative [meaning] because grandiosity now has a specific meaning in the mental health literature." According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, grandiosity is a disorder indicating "an unrealistic sense of superiority, a sustained view of oneself as better than others that causes the narcissist to view others with disdain or as inferior. It also refers to a sense of uniqueness, the belief that few others have anything in common with oneself and that one can only be understood by a few or very special people."

The term grandiose first appeared in the 1994 edition of the manual to describe a "narcissistic personality disorder."

Isn't there something quintessentially Newtish about that too?

Nancy Friedman, a linguistic blogger, noted recently that "when grandiosity and grandiose entered English dictionaries, around 1840, the words already had both positive and negative connotations. As time went on, the disparaging meanings prevailed. George Eliot wrote in Daniel Deronda (1876) of a character's "grandiose air.'"

Now we have a new character on the scene with a grandiose air. As Zimmer says, Gingrich's unabashed use of the word to describe himself "is in itself a kind of grandiosity."

Uh huh. Just the kind of guy we want to be president, after the neocons. After a decade of economic hubris and pretensions of power that hurled the nation into the worst crisis since the 1930s and cost the blood of tens of thousands of Americans wounded, maimed and killed.

Uh huh.


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