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A famous quote by George W. Bush is

More and more of our imports come from overseas.

Which is spread with the implication of being particularly stupid because "overseas" is a term to describe foreign countries, which would mean that every single import would come from there, not just "more and more".

However, doesn't "overseas" also mean the more literal "coming over [a] sea, e.g. with a ship" or at least "coming from a country that is separated from the USA by water"? In that case, imports from, say, Canada would not come from oversea and the statement could make sense if the USA was reducing its imports from Canada (whether it's true or false would be a different question and off-topic, here).

Is that a legitimate interpretation of the statement or can it really only be interpreted in the tautological way?

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  • No, it is not so absurd. Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia reads: "To or in a place beyond the sea; abroad. From beyond the sea."
    – user19148
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 18:21
  • However, bitmask, remember! Mr. G. W. Bush said: "In my sentences I go where no man has gone before".
    – user19148
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 18:25
  • @Carlo_R.: Let's not make this a discussion about "his" politics. But in all criticism one must be fair, so that's why I was asking.
    – bitmask
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 18:33
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    Since the origin of the word overseas is British, where all foreign countries are literally, overseas, one could argue that the figurative meaning could be seen as all foreign countries, regardless of actual maritime impediments.
    – Sam
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 18:41
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    On one occasion when I was attempting to purchase something from a web site, I was prompted to select whether I lived in "USA", "Canada" or "Overseas". I believe it was an American web site. So presumably the use of "overseas" to mean "Not USA or Canada" is not too unusual.
    – user16269
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 20:32

2 Answers 2

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Without any context, you're correct that overseas could mean "over the sea." As you point out, in colloquial usage, the "in or to a foreign country, esp. one across the sea" [source: Oxford English Dictionary] sense is far more common - and informal speech was a Bush trademark.

I tried to track down the full text of his original quote to help understand his intent. According to several sources, this quote comes from a speech in Beaverton, OR on 9/25/00. According to one unreliable source, he was talking about American dependence on foreign oil:

"It is clear our nation is reliant upon big foreign oil. More and more of our imports come from overseas."

If this source is accurate, I suspect he'd be trying to express that "America is increasingly reliant on foreign - as opposed to domestic - oil." But, without the full text, I'm just making an educated guess.

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  • What is the significance on the imports being fossil fuel? Why does it matter to the context?
    – bitmask
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 18:54
  • @bitmask In American politics, the phrase "foreign oil" basically means "oil from the Middle East."
    – amacy
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 18:57
  • @bitmask yes, I agree with amacy, and I would add-since you have some doubt on the context-that in 90s there is no clear method for converting solar thermal energy, thus I suppse we can't get there on fossil fuel, but Mr. G. W. Bush always thought the power of Americans people was being depended by oil.
    – user19148
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 19:06
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Like @amacy, I did a quick search and couldn't find the text of the original speech either. But my best guess would be that it was simply a slip of the tongue. He probably started out intending to say, "More and more of our oil is imported", changed his mind to, "More and more of our oil comes from overseas", and just jumbled his words.

In fairness to Mr Bush, we all do that sort of thing all the time. You can find equally jumbled words from Mr Obama. Like I just found, "The reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system." Obviously he meant to say that his plan would reduce or eliminate inefficiencies but when he mixed that in with "greater competition", etc, it came out wrong.

I bet you make such mistakes all the time. I certainly do. The difference is that when you or I make a verbal slip, half the time no one notices or cares, and the other half of the time we just say laugh and say, "Oh, I meant ..." and no one thinks anything of it. But when it's a big-time politician, there are reporters following him around every waking moment and recording everything he says, and when he makes a slip, political opponents quote it over and over, and play the video over and over, to prove how stupid he is.

When you like a politician, it's obviously a slip of the tongue and you know what he meant. When you don't like a politician, it's proof that he's stupid. Like, Mr Bush once mispronounced "strategy" as "stategery". Mr Obama once mispronounced "corpsman" as "corpse-man". Which was an understandable slip of the tongue and which demonstrated that the speaker is an idiot? I'll bet your answer depends a lot more on which politician you agree with than on the actual words or the context.

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    This is not an answer. You are trying to defend Mr. Bush by pointing out that others do that sort of thing, too. This is a question about language, not a particular person or his politics. I'm asking if the statement -- particularly the use of the word "overseas" -- itself makes sense or not. Your assertion that this is a slip of tongue is highly speculative.
    – bitmask
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 21:49
  • @bitmask (Shrug) If the intent of your question was, "Regardless of what the speaker meant, could his statement be interpreted literally to mean, etc" then yes, my reply was non-responsive. But the purpose of language is to convey meaning. If a person makes a poorly-worded sentence, I think it makes much more sense to say "What was he trying to say?" then to struggle to attach a meaning to the literal words. It is just as speculative to say, "Maybe he meant imports from Canada and Mexico" as "Maybe he meant oil imports". As I say, if you're point isn't to discern what the real person ...
    – Jay
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 14:18
  • ... was trying to say on this particular instance, but to discuss the definitions of the words in general, and you only mentioned Mr Bush because it was this statement that brought the question to your mind, well, okay.
    – Jay
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 14:19
  • @bitmask In this case I wasn't particularly defending Mr Bush, but defending public speakers in general. Or more to the point, trying to say that I think it is unproductive to over-analyze statements made by public speakers when the most likely interpretation is that the person just made a slip of the tongue.
    – Jay
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 14:21
  • Well, I suppose the question could be rephrased as "Under the assumption that this quote was not a slip of the tongue, what meaning would a native speaker of American English associate with the word 'overseas'." It is very possible he meant to say something else, but I'm trying to understand if the translated version of the quote I originally heard was accurate (where "overseas" was translated with "Ausland" instead of "Übersee" which lacks the ambiguity of the original phrasing).
    – bitmask
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 14:33

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