Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 10:48 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 10:48 | SYDNEY

Bill Safire and the 'running dogs'


Sam Roggeveen


30 September 2009 10:23

The passing of NY Times columnist Bill Safire (who earlier in life was a speech writer for Republican politicians; he was responsible for Spiro Agnew's 'nattering nabobs of negativism', to describe those who talk America down) reminded me that I have four volumes of his collected 'On language' columns on my shelves.

My favourite piece is about the etymology of 'bonding', a term which had arisen during a visit by General Secretary Gorbachev and his wife Raisa to George HW Bush's White House. The First Lady told the press that Mrs Gorbachev and Millie (the Bush's dog) had 'bonded', a description which Safire said 'must have caused much head-scratching at Tass' (the Soviet news agency). The reply from Tass to Safire's column is reproduced in the book:

Barbara Bush's use of the word 'bonding' to describe the relationship between Mrs Gorbachev and the American presidential dog Millie did not occasion any 'head scratching' here at Tass, nor did it send us to the dictionary.

Besides being reasonably proficient at the English tongue (even as spoken by Americans), Tass correspondents are getting to know more and more running dogs of capitalism, including Millie.

Incidentally, the term 'capitalist running dog' has its origins in the Chinese cultural revolution.