Word of the Day: Ham-handed

Word of the Day

Today’s word of the day, courtesy of A.Word.A.Day at the Wordsmith.org website, is ham-handed, an adjective that means “clumsy; tactless; lacking social grace” (https://wordsmith.org/words/today.html). According to the website, the earliest documented use of the word is from 1918, and it is a combination of ham (meaning a person who overacts or is a bit of a show-off) and hand. It further states that the word ham, in the above sense, comes from an old minstrel song.

The website www.etymonline.com goes a bit further: “’overacting inferior performer,’ 1882, American English, apparently a shortening of hamfatter (1880) ‘actor of low grade,’ which is said (at least since 1889) to be from the old minstrel show song, ‘The Ham-fat Man’ (attested by 1856). The song, a comical black-face number, has nothing to do with acting, but the connection might be with the quality of acting in minstrel shows, where the song was popular (compare the definition of hambone in the 1942 ‘American Thesaurus of Slang,’ ‘unconvincing blackface dialectician’). Its most popular aspect was the chorus and the performance of the line ‘Hoochee, kouchee, kouchee, says the ham fat man.’”

A.Word.A.Day also shares an interesting quote on its page today: “I believe at our best America is a beacon for the globe. And we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. -Joe Biden, president-elect of the United States.”

Yes, today is the birthday of former Vice-President of the USA, Joe Biden. Biden became the US Senator from Delaware in 1972, at the age of 30. During his roughly 36 years in the US Senate, Biden earned a salary the grew from $42,500/year to $174,000/year. Then in 2009, Biden became the Vice President under Barack Obama, and during his eight years, he earned $230,000/year. He left that office in January of 2017, and since that time he has earned millions of dollars through a book deal and charged up to $190,000 per speech. He also earned over half a million dollars as a “professor” at the University of Pennsylvania (no wonder college is so expensive). His estimated wealth, including the two homes that he and his wife, Jill, own is about $9 million. Not bad for a life of “public service.”

Here are some interesting facts about Joe Biden that you may not have heard during the recent campaign.

While it is true that Biden’s family was middle class, it is also true that Biden went to a private school, the Archmere Academy in Claymont, DE. Jules Witcover, a Biden biographer, describes Biden as having been “A poor student but a natural leader” (Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption. New York City: William Morrow, 2010). He played football and baseball. Personally, I find it interesting that the leader of the Democratic Party, which opposes private schools and home-bound education and promotes the agenda of the labor unions (the NEA and the AFT) of government-run schools, is himself a product of private-school education.

Biden attended the University of Delaware, from which he graduated in 1965 with a double major in history and political science and a minor in English, according to his wiki. On April 3, 1987, during Biden’s first campaign to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency, he claimed that he had earned three undergraduate degrees and been named the outstanding graduate in the political science department. The claims were captured on videotape, which was kind of unfortunate for Biden because he lied. He actually graduated “506th in a class of 688 with a ‘C’ average” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1987/09/22/biden-academic-claims-inaccurate/932eaeed-9071-47a1-aeac-c94a51b668e1/).

Biden went on to law school at Syracuse University. He claimed in 1987 that he went on a full academic scholarship. However, records show that “he attended law school on a half-time scholarship based on financial need and that he graduated 76th out of a law school class of 85” (ibid). He later claimed that his memory was faulty on these various issues, but I find that hard to believe for someone who was, at the time the claims were made, only in his mid-40s. I’m 20 years older than Biden was in 1987, and I can tell you what my GPA in college was and what my GMAT score was before I entered the MBA program at the University of Georgia. Forgetting that you had a need-based half scholarship instead of an academics-based full scholarship would have to be a sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

In that April, 1987, exchange, Biden made some other claims about his law school experience: “I went to law school on a full academic scholarship, the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship. In the first year in the law, I decided I didn’t want to be in law school and ended up the bottom two-thirds of my class and then decided I wanted to stay, went back to law school and in fact ended up in the top half of my class” (ibid). But according to the article, “His records show that he ranked 80th in a class of 100 his first year in law school, 79th of 87 at the end of his second year, and 76 of 85 the final year.”

Biden’s first attempt to achieve the presidency was that campaign in 1987, and it ended in an inauspicious manner: Biden dropped out because of claims that he had plagiarized elements of a speech from a Labour Party politician in the UK. The claims were true. The plagiarism charge was made more credible by the fact that Biden had faced disciplinary action during his first year in law school for plagiarism in a paper he submitted to a class.

We tell our kids that anybody who grows up in the USA can become president, and I think Joe Biden illustrates that. He’s a plagiarist and a liar, and yet it looks like he will be the next president. Of course, the person he was running against was not exactly a boy scout. But it seems odd that a person can become president just because his opponent comes across as ham-handed.

The power of example indeed!

I found today’s image at https://polination.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/what-was-joe-biden-doing-fifty-years-ago/.

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