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Exactly the Right Word

April 12, 2018

There is an old joke which begins when a prominent wordsmith is caught by his wife as he is embracing another woman.  Mrs. Wordsmith exclaims: “Why Mr. Wordsmith, I’m surprised at you!”  To which Mr. Wordsmith replies: “No my dear, I am surprised.  You are amazed.”

Woodrow Wilson was a man of words, and his father had taught him to choose exactly the right word for each occasion.  “When you frame a sentence,” advised the Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, “don’t do it as if you were loading a shotgun, but as if you were loading a rifle.”  So, in keeping with his late father’s admonition, when President Wilson’s friendship with Mrs. Peck was discovered by the media, he plead guilty to a lesser charge, calling the relationship indiscreet but not improper.

If their friendship had been improper, it would not have been in accord with propriety, modesty, good manners, or good taste.  To deny impropriety was Wilson’s way of saying he had neither committed adultery nor even considered doing so.  By saying it was indiscreet, Wilson confessed that his meetings with Mrs. Peck had been unwise and that he had not adequately considered how this might hurt his wife or damage his reputation.

Newspaperman William Allen White, an old friend of Wilson’s political foe Theodore Roosevelt, exonerated Wilson when he wrote: “…the friendship of these two people, Woodrow Wilson and Mary Peck, was of so fine and noble a quality…”  So, what was all the fuss about?





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