This is the imagery I conjure when I hear or read the term "Bully Pulpit." Yes, I know this idiom—Bully Pulpit—has been around for sometime, but its pejorative peal and ubiquitous use has given me reason, of late, to contemplate its odd meaning and derivation. The phrase is liberally strewn throughout our newspapers, and in this month's Rhode Island Monthly magazine the expression was set to ink at least three times within one article. And quite frankly, it's starting to irk me.
Let's think about the vernacular. When I hear the word "Bully" (which I often do these days, especially in relation to school) I think: intimidation, coercion, threat, harassment, needling, confrontation. As in, "Eat sh*t, Dirtbag" (oh, the 70's!) followed by a swift blow to the noggin (and maybe a little dirt in the face, for good measure).
And "Pulpit", well, there he is: Father Hazebrook lecturing from the second story wood-paneled platform. It was forty years ago, but I can still see him clear as day. Why in the world would we put a bully in the pulpit? (No, no, I don't mean Fr. H!)
A distinct disconnect.
Actually, it was—as it came to be—precisely the misuse (the attempt to bully followers into submitting to certain beliefs) of the church pulpit that inspired the modern day usage of Bully Pulpit.
Here is a "Bully Pulpit" explanation from The C-SPAN Congressional Glossary:
an important job or position that someone can use to persuade other people to accept their ideas."
I would like to note here that, historically, this Bully Pulpit verbiage was most popular during Teddy Roosevelt's (who coined it) and John F. Kennedy's presidency. The phrase is once again in vogue while Barack Obama enjoys the office. All three, Harvard graduates. All three, for different reasons, seemingly larger than life.
Not drawing any deductions or inferences here (although you may draw your own), merely pointing out "Bully Pulpit" as an overused term (as if you haven't noticed) with some rather ugly imagery. That said, I think it's time for our writers and reporters to get creative, dream up a new parlance, knock the bully pit off its high horse.
Here's a few of my suggestions for the Synonym List: "love lectern" or "peachy podium" or "swell stump"??
What do you think? Bully?!
(Now let's have some fun. Post your own spin on this phrase... post under the comments section below. I'll publish all idiom-synonym suggestions in my next entry [with the exception of "Friday Night Frolic"], and if you have your own blog, I'll post your link, too—and you can jump on your own bully pulpit!)