The word “embolden” isn’t very obscure, but it’s hardly a word in ordinary use. I, for one, don’t have it in my writing or speaking vocabulary. Most politicians, consistent with their belief that swing voters are ignorant fools, try to keep their remarks at an eighth-grade reading level.
So it’s surprising to hear a candidate use the word “embolden.” It’s even more surprising to hear two candidates use the word in the same week. For example, George W. Bush yesterday paused from his attempt to decide whether he thinks we can win the war on terror to say that John Kerry’s criticism of his incompetence in occupying Iraq could “embolden an enemy.” The previous Sunday, John Thune of South Dakota — obviously a more concrete thinker — said that Tom Daschle’s words could “embolden the enemy.”
Since Thune spoke first, he couldn’t have been quoting his leader. And it seems unlikely that Bush was quoting Thune, or that speechwriters for both men would have independently come up with the same obscure word to express the same slimy thought.
Thus a suspicious type might be led to infer the existence of a set of RNC talking points containing the word “embolden,” or even the phrase “embolden the enemy.” But I’m eager to avoid shrillness or irrational Bush-hatred, so I will express no such suspicion.
Consider, however, if you will, a more ordinary word than “embolden.”
Pronounce it, spell it, use it in a sentence. For example: “If voters fail to become enraged at this sort of slime-mongering, Republicans may be emboldened to repeat it.”