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EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Stiffing: Deceived and confused
stiffingv, "to stiff": to cheat, to swindle, to deceive, to betray.

ALT SLANG: to weasel out, to wheadle/wheedle, to diddle, to fiddle.

INCIDENCE: "...and so I'm going to call upon the world to recognise that he [Saddam Hussein] is stiffing the world": President Bush, in hawkish mood, speaking in Washington on Wednesday. (He also noted President Saddam had "crawfished" out of previous agreements - meaning "to back out of".)

CONTEXT: purists of English have long winced at President Bush's contorted vernacular, coining the word "Bushism" to describe an example of his verbal folly. Examples include confusing "devaluation" for "deflation", "resignate" for "resonate" and "subliminabable" for "subliminal"

CONTEXT II: yet "stiffing" was clearly no faux pas. Rather the president was deploying a folksy idiom familiar to Americans - the slang usage was first recorded in the 1950s - to ram home his message.

CONFUSION: on this side of the Pond, the key phrase went over the heads of those watching Mr Bush's keynote speech on television.

CONFUSION II: bafflement (and guffawing) was exaggerated by the fact "stiff" already has a number of slang definitions. The word can be used to mean a corpse, an erection, a dull person and to describe a strong alcoholic drink.

CONUNDRUM: Should we frown on such attempts to bring bar-room talk to the diplomatic table, or keep a stiff upper lip?


Some of your comments:

"Stiff" (adj) means rigid or difficult. Could apply to either Bush or Saddam. Who's stiffing who?
David Rose, UK

I'm from Long Island, New York, and I can't understand what Bush is saying half the time. I can honestly say I've never heard the term "crawfishing" before and I had no idea what he meant by it.
Jennifer, USA

There is another colloquial American use of "stiffing". It arises from American football, in which one player may "stiff-arm" another. It means instead "to fend off, to keep away, to keep at arm's length." I suspect this usage was what the president intended.
Andrew

To "stiff" someone is not to come through with payment when expected or required. One "stiffs" a waiter or waitress by not leaving a tip, for example. That Bush thinks this is an appropriate term to use is interesting in itself.
M Harris, USA

We are just as confused by our president's "folksy idioms" as you are. "Stiffing" is not a word I'd use to describe Hussein's actions.
Anon, USA



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05 Nov 01 | Business
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