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Presidential History Replete with Euphemisms for Staring at the Stars

Washington, D.C. ( — White House spokesman Ari Fleischer today said a miscommunication with the President's medical staff inadvertently caused a report to circulate stating President Bush fainted after choking "on" a pretzel. The President, Fleischer said, actually fainted after choking "the" pretzel.

"It's a simple mistake, and no, I'm not going to explain what it means," Fleischer said.


Abraham Lincoln:
Addressing Gettysburg
George Washington:
Crossing the Delaware
Richard Nixon:
Begging my pardon
Marie Antoinette:
Having my cake
Julius Caesar:
Rendering unto me what's mine
Bill Clinton:
Hiring my own intern
Mao Tse-Tung:
The glorious revolution
Henry VIII:
Meeting my lawfully headed wife
Waxing the elephant
Winston Churchill:
Strengthening the Empire

Doctors explained that episodes of fainting during such an activity are not unusual, but added the euphemism "choking the pretzel" appears to be new. However, according to presidential historian Michael Garvey-Hart, President Bush is most likely borrowing from one of his heroes, President Theodore Roosevelt, who often used the term "spanking the pretzel" to describe incidents in which he was tickling his teddy.

While the vigorous Roosevelt was not known to have blacked out during his tenure, Garvey-Hart noted that fainting while staring at the stars is not at all uncommon, particularly among world leaders known for their hands-on styles.

"In the 1980s, Great Britain's Prime Minister John Major once spent six hours in hospital after losing consciousness while noodling No. 10, and former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was said to have spent three full days face down on the floor after paneling Machu Picchu," he said.

As is likely to be the case with Bush, most such incidents have little impact on world events, but Doris Greyley, author of "Dishonorable Discharge: The Rise and Fall of Dictators," said many leaders in crisis have found themselves grabbing the veins of power at unpropitious times, often with disastrous results.

"Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was apparently quite fond of what he called 'pounding the peasant,' and he often suggested that his generals participate," said Greyley. "Unfortunately, he didn't explain the activity clearly, and his generals thought he was issuing a national policy directive."

At other times, however, the practice has proven fortuitous. For many years, she said, it was thought President Kennedy's threat of war is what mitigated the Cuban missile crisis. But Greyley said documents brought to light with the fall of the Soviet Union show that Nikita Kruschev actually lost his nerve after passing out while cranking the Kremlin.

And Greyley believes her research has cleared up another historical mystery. "You know the 18-minute gap on the Watergate tapes? That wasn't a gap," she said. "You can hear breathing."


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