… illustrated.

Keith started a discussion about the meaning of a word apparently obsolete in American English but still in British English use: gormless.

The term is somewhat hard to define, but I looked it up in the Pictionary:





Synonyms: dim, clueless, sh*t-for-brains.

The list of Romney’s blunders since he got to London – not counting sending ahead whatever “foreign policy advisor” decided to play the Anglo-Saxon card – is really quite astounding:

– He insulted the country’s Olympic preparations, drawing rebukes from both Cameron and Boris Johnson, two fellow members of the Hereditary Plutocrats’ Union. Yes, there’s been some Central Asian polyamory involved in the process, but it was hardly polite for a guest to mention it.

– He referred to “the nation of Great Britain.” Great Britain is the name of an island (by contrast with Brittany or Lesser Britain). In it live three nations: the English, the Welsh, and the Scots. (Four, if you’re a Cornish nationalist.)  The Britons as a separate people got wiped out by the Anglo-Saxons, though both Cornish and Welsh are Brythonic languages. Great Britain is the larger part of a country called the United Kingdom, which also includes Northern Ireland.

– He referred in public to being briefed by the head of MI-6. Such meetings are secret. (This follows up on his blunder in quoting – as it turned out, mis-quoting – a private conversation with the Australian Foreign Minister, in a way that made the Australian seem to be taking sides in the American election.)

– He addressed the head of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, as “Mr. Leader,” suggesting that either he doesn’t understand the forms of address used in the UK or that he’d forgotten Miliband’s name, or both.

– Trying to clean up his Olympics gaffe, he spoke of how inspiring it was to “look out of the backside of 10 Downing Street” and see the Olympic venue. I’m not sure where he was looking, but he was clearly speaking out of his own backside.

– Then, bizarrely, Romney announced that not only was he not going to attend the Olympic event in which his wife’s (tax-deductible) dressage horse is competing for a medal, but that he didn’t even know when the event was going to be. Really? Really?  Your wife might come home with an Olympic Gold Medal, and you’re not planning to watch on TV? Not only will no sane person believe this, but if it were true it would reveal a lack of ordinary human emotion that would be seriously disqualifying in a candidate for President.

When even Tory media start comparing you – unfavorably – to Sarah Palin, you’re definitely not having a good day.

What’s strange is that Romney, who’s clearly several bricks shy of a full gorm-load, is by no means stupid. A very smart HBS classmate of Romney’s – who didn’t especially like him – told me that Romney was “the smartest guy in the class,” and I’m willing to believe it. But there’s clearly a piece missing somewhere.



Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

36 thoughts on “Gormlessness”

  1. Don’t tell him that US Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin has gone to the United Kingdom, or he will say, “Gosh, I’m sorry to hear that. I didn’t even know she was sick.”

    1. Nice. But isn’t British Isles” now politically incorrect? However if you say “Atlantic Isles”, it’s unclear – Iceland? Falklands? Bermuda?

      1. As far as I know, British Isles is archaic rather than actually deprecated. Much like Albion, which one only encounters in Napoleonic references and book titles. Sad wazzock though Romney is, I think the “Great Britain” utterance could be excused, since quite a few Brits see it as more or less equivalent to the United Kingdom. I have the fairly strong impression that “Brits” tend to say that they are from Britain rather than from the UK, although Americans often seem to be familiar with UK rather than GB. Either way, I doubt anyone in the UK cared about the Great Britain moment, so to speak.

        1. Nick T’s conclusion is probably right – but I recall being firmly instructed by an Irish student, back when I was a student myself in the late 60s, that the proper expression was “Britain and Ireland”, NOT “the British Isles”. As usual, it’s the folks from the smaller party who care (cf Canadians not wanting to be taken for Americans, or Kiwis not wanting to be taken for Aussies. The insult is not felt as strongly in the other direction.

          1. @John G

            I suspect your Irish student wasn’t thinking in terms of the smaller party, more in terms of Irish nationalism. I might say that one of the first Americans I met in Boston was of Irish descent and she, hearing that I was from England, informed me that I had murdered her people. Thereafter, conversation faltered.

      2. I was just in London. I hazily recall seeing signs about supporting the “GB” team. Not the UK team or the English team.

        The problem is longstanding and was mentioned in Gilbert and Sullivan’s lovely, “Utopia Limited” which has the lines
        “Oh, may we copy all her maxims wise,
        and imitate her virtues and her charities,
        And may we by degrees acclimatize
        Her Parliamentary peculiarities!
        By doing so we shall, in course of time,
        Regenerate completely our entire land:
        Great Britain is that monarchy sublime,
        To which some add (but others do not) Ireland.

  2. Boris Johnson did a good job leading a massive chant of

    “Are we ready?”


    at a concert last night. I hope Mitt tuned in.

  3. In partial mitigation of the “backside” gaffe, it is surprisingly the case that Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall will be the venue for Sir Humphrey’s favourite Olympic sport, beach volleyball. However, if the wet summer continues, competitors will be allowed to cover up, making the sport rather pointless. There’s always synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics to fall back on.

    BTW, which side does Romney think the Camerons fought on at Culloden?

  4. Romney seems to have missed insulting the food. How did he miss that one?

    I don’t believe that the horses are awarded medals although it is certainly

    1. Romney has insulted enough foods already, including cookies and doughnuts. If he missed a chance to knock down spotted dick, I’m not going to blame him. But there is also the money quote that appeared earlier in Romney’s book and has been suitably resurrected by the British press in light of Mittens’s latter-day commentary: “England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth’s land and a quarter of the earth’s population.” Cameron got it right by suggesting that Romney himself ran the Olympic Games “in the middle of nowhere”–which is where Mittens should probably go back to.

      The purpose of the trip was supposed to show that Willard can be presidential and play with the Big Boys. Instead, he looks like a fool–something I did not expect. Inept and wooden? Sure! But less prepared than Palin? That’s hard. Then Jindal comes out and essentially wipes out the entire trip–“Americans don’t care about what’s in the British press.” Of course, that’s going to change once the Israeli papers play up the Willard-Bibi bromance. Americans LOVE to hear what the Israeli papers say about Mitt Romney. I wish the whole Ship of Fools would sink already…

      1. Romney may be on to something. The GOP idea of being tough on the international stage seems to have devolved into being rude, insulting willfully ignoratnt and itching to blunder into any military misadventure they can find. The rubes they call their base eat this crap up. Being polite is just a sign of weakness to be ridiculed as “apologizing”.
        Besides, what good are the Brits now. The neo-cons have already used up all the GB good will for a generation. ‘Foole me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on, uh, uh, We won’t get fooled again.’

    2. Oj! I was called away in mid-sentence. Please excuse. Let me finish.

      …it is certainly an honor to own a horse that was ridden to a champianship. Profitable too in stud fees and sale value of the horse. Can horse sperm be declared as capital gains?

      1. Given that Willard’s dancing equine tax deduction is a mare, I think that the market for her sperm might be limited by questions about its authenticity, however valuable her bloodlines.

        1. Perhaps Rafalca will grant her affections only under cover of darkness, thus becoming, in more senses than one, Romney’s night mare….

  5. Stupid, no. But the “official” quoted in the Mail who said he was ‘apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity’ seems to have nailed it.

    1. I think I said this a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating. Romney finished in the top 5% of his business school class, and the top third of his law school class.

  6. Although “gormless” isn’t half bad, English is a poor language for derogation. Mitt deserves far better: Yiddish. I’d recommend “yuld.” “Putz” isn’t bad, either, and is more widely known.

    Maybe Mitt will top his London performance, and tell Polack jokes on his next stop?

    1. You can find an abundance of derogatory terms in British English, Ebenezer. Wazzock, which was applied to Mittbot 2.0 recently, being relatively mild. I pass over pillock, wanker etc. My wife and I have taken to using “grass-combing bugger” in moments of stress. That said, I regret no-one has yet described Mittens as a scrub lacking bottom. To me, that sums him up admirably.

      1. I stand corrected on British English. I should have remembered my Patrick O’Brien. Although for the life of me, I can’t figure out how “grass-combing” modifies “bugger.”

        1. Never let it trouble your heart, for all love. I particularly enjoyed POB’s anticipation of the modern Republican party in Master and Commander:

          “Unscrupulous grass-combing buggers that blazed away, blind and reckless – anything to win.”

          Neither my wife nor I can make much sense of why buggers should comb grass, but the back of my hand to lexical care, the black thief of the world, it sounds right! Oddly enough, Google suggests that the Chinese produce grass combing knives, for use on golf courses, in abundance – but this seems unlikely to be what POB had in mind.

          1. I might parenthetically interject a plug for this rather amusing site:


            “PO’BMC stands for Patrick O’Brian Mornington Crescent.
            We take turns to write episodes of stories more-or-less in the setting of the Aubrey / Maturin novels, faking PO’B’s style to the best of our abilities.”

          2. Nick,
            Funny site, but sadly it took its name from the wrong ISIHAC game. What they’re doing has nothing to do with Mornington Crescent; it’s more like the letter-writing game (which I don’t think has a consistent name).

          3. The “Shorter OED” says:

            grass-comber Naut. (arch., derog.) a landlubber, esp. a farm worker

  7. Romney, intelligent? That’s bull. He’s like Bush only more so — that is, he has the sociopath’s focused cunning, the grifter’s idiot savante-knack for manpulating and domination, but it’s all undercut by his utter emptiness, his complete lack of self-awareness (exacerbated by reflex prejudice against the examined life) and also by his complete lack of empathy. (Of course he shares these traits with most authoritarians.) He has the moral compass of a five-year-old and sooner or later it’s going to lead him into real atrocity. He wants power but hasn’t the slightest notion of what to do with it — which is why he’ll let the worst people in the world do his thinking for him while he gets his jollies tormenting his perceived enemies.

    1. Romney, intelligent? That’s bull. He’s like Bush only more so —

      I wonder which one of them was the better male cheerleader?

    1. As Sarah Palin might say: “Central Asia is a country in the continent of Lithuania, Katie”.

  8. Romenyh is extremely smart, in the number-crunching Michael Dukakis way that doesn’t get anyone elected president. He is aware of this so he’s trying to dumb himself down. Unoftrunatley, he’s been around smart people for so long that he has no idea how to act like someone who isn’t smart. He’s become the smart guy’s idea of a stupid guy.

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