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There were words, ‘August pick, October pick, and January pick” in the article titled “Biden’s Brief - Obama picked his running-mate to help him govern,” appearing in New Yorker magazine October 20 issue. The article deals with the character and political records of Joe Biden who made a name in the recent vice presidential debate by making for President Obama’s lethargic representation in the preceding presidential debate.

The words appear in the following statement:

In 2004, when John Kerry was conducting his search for a running mate, he divided his options into three groups, based on the electoral calendar. “Kerry said you can pick either a Mr. August, a Mr. October, or a Mr. January,” David Wade, who was Kerry’s press secretary at the time and is now serving in that role for Biden, told me. “In a perfect world, you have someone who is all three.”

By Kerry’s logic, Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor, whom John McCain named as his running mate, was an August pick. An October pick tends to be political—someone with strong, even strident campaign skills, Kerry’s choice—John Edwards—may have fallen into that category.”

As I’m totally ignorant of political affairs in U.S., I have no idea about what August, October, and January pick mean, though I understand Mr. August, Mr. October, and Mr. January mean respectively those who are picked up as the presidential running-mate according to the political calendar.

Are they political jargons, or just an application of greengrocery terms? What do they mean?

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Can you explain what you mean by "greengrocery terms"? both google.com/search?q=greengrocery+terms and google.com/search?q=greengrocer+terms do not produce any useful results for me, and I've never read that phrase before anywhere in 41 years on the planet as an English speaker. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 17 '12 at 9:09
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@Jeff Atwood.I would like to make this my last answer to you. I meant ‘the term used by greengroceries’ by ‘greengrocery term’ just in the same way as business term, medical term, and computer term. I’m not a native English speaker (I sometimes wonder why I, Japanese septuagenarian who never lived abroad except China am staying as a member of EL&U community whose users are predominantly native-speakers or those who live in English–speaking countries more than a year). I’m not sure even if my English expressions are right or wrong. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 18 '12 at 9:13
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If I’m a perfect English speaker, I don’t need to visit this site at all. An answerer seems to be kind enough to understand what I meant by “greengrocery term.” I am not English language teacher. It doesn’t matter whether ‘greengrocery term’ can pass as an English word, or just happen to be an awkward coinage of non-native speaker. It’s enough for me to find that it communicated the crux of my question to, I presume, 236 minus 1members of the community. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 18 '12 at 9:13
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I interpreted this question - Are they political jargons, or just an application of greengrocery terms? - to mean, "Is this political jargon, or just instances of ordinary, everyday language?" I, too, have never heard the phrase "greengrocery terms," but I've often heard "shopping list" used to reference a list in general ("The labor union came back with a shopping list of demands," e.g.), or "grocery list" to abstractly refer to something mundane ("If the subject matter is what needs to be put on the grocery list, most people don't have any difficulties saying what they feel." - Dr. Ruth). –  J.R. Oct 18 '12 at 19:15
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@YoichiOishi - I, for one, ALWAYS enjoy your questions (although, in the past few months, I check in so rarely that I don't always get a chance to answer them.) It is true that your questions usually revolve around journalistic uses/abuses of American English, but they provide a very (to me) valuable insight into how we sound to the rest of the world. Please don't be discouraged! (Also, if I may be so bold: I would never have guessed "septuagenarian". "Quinquagenarian", perhaps.) –  MT_Head Oct 19 '12 at 7:22

5 Answers 5

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Oishi-san, it works this way in the political calendar:

An August pick happens around the time of the political conventions, and is calculated to arouse the party base.

An October pick is calculated to be a strong campaigner right before the election, which takes place on the first Tuesday of the following month.

A January pick, however, is someone who would be a good and competent Vice President after the inauguration. One supposes the January pick would be chosen only if the president needed no help to win the election, and was perceived as a shoo-in — the way Nixon was in 1972, say.

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Or that the President optimistically believed that making good decisions resulting in competent government would be appealing to voters. –  DJClayworth Mar 19 at 23:38

Are [Mr. August, Mr. October, and Mr. January] political jargons, or just [instances of ordinary, everyday language]? What do they mean?

To me, this has nothing at all to do with politics, other than the obvious connection between the differing goals in each phase of the campaign (early, middle, late).

The English language pattern of

Mr. / Ms. {month}

Seems to be primarily derived from the traditional monthly calendar, and the common association of "pin-up" girls on each month of the calendar. So there was a face and a body associated with that month, in spirit:

The pin-up images could be cut out of magazines or newspapers, or be from postcard or chromo-lithographs, and so on. Such photos often appear on calendars, which are meant to be pinned up anyway. Later, posters of pin-up girls were mass-produced and became an instant hit.

Here's an example from a 1951 issue of Esquire magazine; note the prominent calendar of August 1952, so this would be "Miss August" informally if not explicitly.

Miss August, 1951, Esquire Magazine

Speaking of "explicit", the strong monthly connection outside of calendars was made explicit and mainstreamed into pop culture by Playboy as the "Miss {month name}" feature of every single issue. Not a calendar in sight, but perhaps other things.

Playboy Miss April 1980

As J.R. correctly pointed out, the purpose of choosing a Miss March or Miss October -- as shown in the centerfold, the feature position in the magazine -- is to drive interest in and sales of the magazine. Consider the very first issue as an example of the power of a Miss December 1953, someone you have likely heard of:

The first Playboy centerfold was Marilyn Monroe, although the picture used originally was taken for a calendar rather than for Playboy. The first issue sold out in weeks. Known circulation was 53,991.

Through the 1980s and beyond, this concept began to extend equally to men, and with less stigma. It became increasingly acceptable for men to also be "Mr. October".

So the language pattern, as established in US culture at least, is that when you see "Mr. June" or "Miss July" you can assume that the author is generally (and perhaps somewhat cheekily) referring to a person who is featured in the given calendar month in a very er … public … way for the express purpose of driving interest in whatever particular agenda they have in that month.

The pin-up metaphor is particularly relevant to the choice of Vice President of the United States, which is a position with no real political power and barely any duties – thus the oblique, but totally correct, implication of "chosen just for looks".

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Whatever the origin of month-naming — and you could be right about the trope's ultimate origins — the fact still remains that the meaning of the month references in the OP's context still cannot be unmoored from a political calendar of events. –  Robusto Oct 19 '12 at 11:35
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it can and should be, because regardless of the context, the English language construct "Mr {month}" means "selecting a person who drives public interest in whatever particular agenda they have in that month". I suppose it also helps that Vice Presidents don't contribute anything of significance politically, but that strengthens the pin-up connection in my mind -- they're just for looks. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 19 '12 at 19:39

I believe this is more a reference to baseball than it is to pin-up magazine. The iconic "Mr. October" is Reggie Jackson, who in the 1970s was famous for being mediocre early in the regular season but being an incredibly effective clutch hitter in the month of October (i.e. during playoffs and the World Series). Alex Rodriguez is often sarcastically called "Mr. August" since he's perceived to always peak during the regular season but not perform well in high-stakes situations, like the playoffs. Players like Barry Zito are called "Mr. December" since they're most liked when the season is over.

The US Presidential season coincides with the baseball season, so I think people just started using this concept. A "Mr. October", like Reggie, is someone who will deliver as the election (in November) gets closer. A "Mr. August", like A-Rod, is someone who will do well in the party conventions, but not perform effectively in the closing weeks of a national campaign when it matters most. A "Mr. March" does well in the primaries etc etc etc...

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In August, the political primary season is over, and the U.S. presidential race becomes essentially a two-person contest. A Mr. August will generate some excitement and buzz among voters who are learning about the running mate for the first time, and give their candidate a positive "bump" in the polls after the conventions are over.

In October, we're within a month of Election Day, and campaigning reaches a fervant pitch. There's usually a vice presidential debate. A Mr. October will perform well in that debate, and give rousing campaign speeches during the rest of the month.

Our election is held in early November, but the new administration doesn't take over until almost three weeks into January. A Mr. January, then, is one who will dispense sound advice over the course of the next four years, and help the elected president govern well.

The terms aren't all that commonly used in politics, but make sense within the context of the article. An ideal running mate will give a strong bump in the polls early on, campaign well down the stretch, and, if ultimately elected, be an effective advisor to the president during the next four years.

Outside politics, you might see such terms used from time-to-time; it seems relatively common in the world of sports, for example. The baseball player Reggie Jackson was given the nickname Mr. October, owing to his clutch hitting during the baseball playoffs, but that nickname also gets applied to other baseballers who have stellar postseason runs. As another example, the quarterback Philip Rivers was once dubbed Mr. December. I suppose the usages in sports and politics could be said to be related, since, in both cases, "Mr. [Insert Month Here]" refers to a perceptible boost in performance in said month.

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The last paragraph of this answer is excellent; this is the only answer that gets to the root of the English question at hand, kudos for that! –  Jeff Atwood Oct 17 '12 at 16:59

The article provides much of the necessary context once you realize that the presidential election takes place in November. Vice-presidential candidates usually aren't announced until the last stages of a presidential campaign.

An August pick is one that capitalizes on the initial fervor of selecting a running-mate and presenting him or her to the public. Sarah Palin is considered an August pick because John McCain's choice of a (relatively) political unknown fired up Republican voters.

An October pick has "strident campaign skills." They attract additional voters and may play a helpful role in the VP debates.

A January pick is one that will help run the nation post-election. This can be gleaned from the headline: "Obama picked his running-mate to help him govern".

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