These Dictionary Words Were Popularized by U.S. Presidents

When the president speaks, all eyes and ears are on them — so it makes sense that their favorite phrases stick with the general audience. And you probably don’t even realize some everyday words and phrases were made popular thanks to U.S. leaders. In fact, due to the presidents status’, they’ve been key in influencing our language over the years.

Take a look at these dictionary words U.S. presidents absolutely loved, including the one Donald Trump frequently adds to his speeches (No. 10.).

1. Sugarcoat

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln | Photos.com/Getty Images

President: Abraham Lincoln

Year: 1861

Merriam-Webster notes originally, the word “sugarcoat” meant literally putting sugar on bitter pills to help them go down easier. But in a message to Congress written in 1861, Abraham Lincoln used the term to mean “to make superficially attractive,” which is how it’s known today.

His message was condemning secessionists who said they had a right to secede thanks to what the Constitution said. It stated, “With rebellion thus sugar-coated, they have been drugging the public mind of their own section for more than thirty years ….” And while his usage of the word was originally faced with opposition, Lincoln wanted it to stand.

Next: You probably don’t hear this word too often, but one president loved it. 

2. Bloviate

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

President: Warren G. Harding

Year: 1921

Warren G. Harding has contributed quite a few words to our everyday language, but The Boston Globe notes he wasn’t considered to be very smart when it came to words. Journalist H.L. Mencken even called his speech “a string of wet sponges” at one point. Even so, when this president started using the word “bloviate,” it really stuck, Merriam-Webster notes.

In case you’re unfamiliar, “bloviate” means to speak in a long-winded fashion. But Harding used it to mean to spend time without purpose, and he said it with frequency.

Next: You hear this word all the time, and you can thank the first president for that. 

3. Administration

George Washington with family

George Washington with his family | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

President: George Washington

Year: 1796

You’ve probably never considered where this word came from, but George Washington was the one to put it on the map. History notes George Washington was the first to define what a chief executive’s role was in the government. And he was also the first one to coin the word “administration” in 1796, which he used to describe how long a commander in chief was to stay in office.

As for when the word was introduced, he used it in his Farewell Address when he wrote, “In reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error.”

Next: Jimmy Carter put this word for illness on the map. 

4. Malaise

Jimmy Carter And Hamilton Jordan in the Oval Office at desk

Jimmy Carter at his desk talking to Hamilton Jordan | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

President: Jimmy Carter

Year: 1979

This word wasn’t popularized until Jimmy Carter used it in the late ’70s, Merriam-Webster notes. The word comes from the French word for “poor”(mal) and the word for “comfort” (aise). Put together, it generally means the feeling of the onset of illness or a sense of feeling mentally unwell.

In July 1978, Carter made a speech that was allegedly about the energy crisis and economic issues at the time. While he didn’t use malaise in the actual speech, he later used it when talking about the speech later with reporters, which is how it was recognized.

Next: This is how the president’s wife got her title. 

5. First lady

President Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor | National Archive/Getty Images

President: Zachary Taylor

Year: 1849

The president’s wife wasn’t always referred to as the “first lady,” History notes. While the U.S. was still a very young country, she was actually called the “presidentress” instead. It was Zachary Taylor, the 12th president, who changed that.

In his 1849 speech eulogizing Dolley Madison, the wife of James Madison, he said, “She will never be forgotten because she was truly our First Lady for a half-century.” Thanks to this, the phrase stuck and is still used today.

 Next: This term that often refers to crazy political movements was popularized decades ago. 

6. Lunatic fringe

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt | Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

President: Theodore Roosevelt 

Year: 1913

You can thank Theodore Roosevelt for this phrase that refers to the fanatical members of an extreme political movement, Merriam-Webster notes. Back in 1913, however, Roosevelt was talking about an art exhibition when he used the term. The president wasn’t impressed with what he viewed, and in response, he said, “we have to face the fact that there is apt to be a lunatic fringe among the votaries of any forward movement. In this recent exhibition the lunatic fringe was fully in evidence ….”

Before Roosevelt, the term referred to something totally different. In the early 19th century, there was a woman’s haircut with bangs that was called the lunatic fringe.

Next: You’d never know this president made this common phrase popular. 

7. Belittle

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson | GeorgiosArt/Getty Images

President: Thomas Jefferson

Year: 1788

Here’s another president known for bringing certain words to the forefront. Reader’s Digest notes the beauty of Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia in 1788 had him using the word “belittle.” He allegedly wrote, “The Count de Buffon believes that nature belittles her productions on this side of the Atlantic.”

Since then, we’re sure you’ve used the word, which means to make something seem unimportant, in your own conversations. And you’ve probably other Jefferson-isms, like “pedicure,” too.

Next: You would never guess this casual word was made popular by a president. 

8. Iffy

United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt | Central Press/Getty Images

President: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Year: 1930s

While some presidents just had to use their word of choice once for it to become memorialized, Franklin D. Roosevelt was known for using this word with fair frequency. History explains this president was known for his “high-class” speech in general. But when it came to slang, he wasn’t afraid to throw around a few favorite terms. And he used “iffy” any time he disagreed with a Supreme Court decision or had any political uncertainties. Additionally, he used “iffy” with reporters when they asked him questions about hypothetical scenarios.

Next: This word for a person unlawfully occupying a space was credited to this president.

9. Squatter

James Madison

James Madison | GeorgiosArt/iStock/Getty Images

President: James Madison

Year: 1788

Squatter sounds like a hip, modern term. But in reality, Reader’s Digest notes James Madison was the first person to ever be recorded using the term. Today, the word “squatter” refers to someone who’s unlawfully living in an unused building or section of land. But Madison used it to refer to homeless people in Maine. In a letter to George Washington all the way back in 1788, he wrote about how the homeless were living on property belonging to others and called them squatters.

Next: You’re definitely familiar with this Trump term.

10. Bigly

Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the Capitol

Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the Capitol with Gary Cohn. | Alex Wong/ Getty Images

President: Donald Trump

Year: 2016

Bigly, or big league? We may never know the truth about this word popularized by the current president. Dictionary.com notes Trump first used this phrase during his 2016 campaign during a debate. And as soon as the public heard it, Twitter erupted in criticism and confusion. His son, Donald Trump Jr., actually had to clarify that his father said “big league” — but we’re still not so sure.

Either way, bigly is actually a word meaning “in a big way,” which aligns with how Trump’s used it in the past.

Next: Here’s another Roosevelt saying.  

11. Muckraker

Theodore Roosevelt and his family with a dog

Theodore Roosevelt and his family | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

President: Theodore Roosevelt

Year: 1906

He didn’t create this word himself, but Teddy Roosevelt did bring it into the public eye. Reader’s Digest explains in 1906, Roosevelt mentioned in a speech that that journalists were “digging in the muck” for gossip. And this was after he heard the term “muckrake” in Pilgrim’s Progress, a Christian allegory by John Bunyan.

Muckraker didn’t maintain any bad connotations, however. Eventually, journalists embraced the term and used it to refer to writers who took risks with their work.

Next: This common reference to those who led the American Revolution started with Harding. 

12. Founding fathers

Babe Ruth and Warren Harding

Babe Ruth and Warren Harding | Keystone/Getty Images

President: Warren G. Harding

Year: 1918

If you’ve ever wondered where the term “founding fathers” comes from, it allegedly started in 1918 from a speech given by Warren G. Harding, says History. He was just the senator of Ohio at the time, but when he met the men of the Revolution who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he called them this phrase. His original sentence was, “It is good to meet and drink at the fountains of wisdom inherited from the founding fathers of the Republic.”

Later, during Harding’s 1920 presidential campaign, he brought back the phrase, too.

Next: You can thank Eisenhower for this golf term.

13. Mulligan

Dwight D Eisenhower golfing

Dwight D. Eisenhower golfing | Grier/Central Press/Getty Images

President: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Year: 1947

Plenty of presidents loved golf — and at the top of  that list was Dwight D. Eisenhower. And while this president never explicitly said this golf term, he’s forever known as starting it. History explains in 1947, Eisenhower hit a bad tee shot — and he gave himself a do-over without any penalty, the Washington Post reported at the time. The newspaper then explained how a “mulligan” worked in golf. After that, the word became commonplace in golf — and it’s forever associated with Eisenhower.

Next: Another Roosevelt-ism that’s popular today. 

14. Pussyfooting

Theodore Roosevelt smiling

Theodore Roosevelt | Library of Congress

President: Theodore Roosevelt

Year: 1916

Roosevelt didn’t make up this word, but like many other phrases of his, he impacted its popularity immensely. Mental Floss explains he used the word back then much like how it’s used today to refer to someone who’s noncommittal. When Roosevelt was asked about his odds of being the Republican presidential nominee, he said, “I think they are inclined to pussy-foot, and it is worse than useless for them to nominate me, unless they are prepared for an entirely straightforward and open campaign.”

As for where the word originally came from, it actually appeared in print around 1893.

Next: This word from Lincoln refers to those living in one particular northern state. 

15. Michigander

Abraham Lincoln with his son

Abraham Lincoln with his son | Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

President: Abraham Lincoln

Year: 1848

Like many others on this list, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the first to come up with “Michigander” — a term simply used to describe someone from Michigan. The Boston Globe reports the word could be found as far back as 1842 in a Vermont newspaper.

The word came into the public eye after Lincoln said it in 1848. At the time, he was referring to General Lewis Cass, whom he called “the great Michigander.” Additionally, a “gander” is an adult male goose, and opponents of Cass noted he resembled this animal.

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