EE’s daft as a brush

Former vice president Dan Quayle famously couldn’t spell the word ‘potato’. Picture: Pixabay

I compose these columns a couple of weeks in advance, so as I write this I am still surrounded by the trappings of Christmas and the festive cheer has yet to wear off. Because of that, and because we’ve had such a difficult 2020, I feel I am justified in extending the seasonal silliness just a little bit longer in the hope that it might bring a smile to your face and a giggle to your soul.

Firstly though, you might remember a couple of weeks back I discussed tautological words and phrases (that say the same thing twice using different words) and the unnecessary ‘extra’ words we sometimes include in sentences. I was looking through my dad’s paperwork relating to his January 1981 columns when I came across a letter from a reader on this topic.

Colonel NM Dillon from Shincliffe, County Durham, had written in with a few of his own observations, which I’d like to share with you as they are quite interesting. 

Apparently, in the Durham area, butter is referred to as ‘best butter’, and Col Dillon asks, “Why the ‘best’?” Another peculiarity of the area, he says, is that diabetes is referred to as ‘sugar diabetes’ or simply ‘The Sugar’. He also expresses the opinion that real ‘staircases’ rarely exist any more because the ‘case’ part of the word harks back to a time when household stairs were often located outside of the building and so cases were built around them to protect them from the elements. Therefore, internal sets of steps without cases should just be called ‘stairs’. I wonder if any readers today still use these phrases or have any of their own observations to share (my contact details are at the bottom of this article)?

While researching my column last time about the spoken gaffes of George Bush Senior and George Bush Junior, a person I came across who was even more famous for speaking gobbledegook was George Bush Senior’s presidential campaign running mate, Dan Quayle. His website address is still ‘’, which tells you something about him, bearing in mind he’s not been the vice president for the past 27 years. His online entry in Wikipedia even has its own section dedicated to his public gaffes. I didn’t have enough room to include them last time, so rather than deprive you of such entertainment, I’ve included a few below which I hope will bring you those those giggles I promised at the start of this article: 

“I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.” 

–        Really? Are you sure about that?

“I have made good judgements in the past. I have made good judgements in the future.”

–        I also drive a red DeLorean.

“Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.”

–        None of my children are ever going anywhere near a Republican.

“We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.”

–        That’s so reassuring

“One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is ‘To be prepared’.”

–         Calculator anyone?

“What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”

–        I’m certainly in danger of losing mine

“The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation’s history….I mean in this century’s history. But we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century.” 

–        I’m so confused. 

One of Quayle’s most famous blunders of all occurred in June 1992 when he was vice president. He was hosting a school spelling bee in front of a room full of kids, teachers and the world’s media. A 12-year-old boy was asked to write the word ‘potato’ on the board in front of Mr Quayle. He did exactly that, correctly, and was about to leave when the vice president stopped him and said: “Spell it again. Add one little thing on the end…Think of ‘potato’, how is it spelled?” The puzzled child hesitated, then added a letter ‘e’ at the end of the word. “There ya go!” beamed a triumphant Mr Quayle.

And the excruciating moment, captured on film, has never been forgotten. 

Contact me, and read more, at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 15th January and the Gazette & Herald on 13th January 2021

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