Presidential timber?

August 27, 2009

U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy dies at age 77

The sons were expected to mature into presidential timber and were groomed for that starting with the oldest, Joseph Jr., a bomber pilot who died in World War Two.

“The sons were expected to mature into presidential timber….”

Wood that you had chosen the correct spelling of “timbre.”

Jen R.
English Teacher

That’s a clever pun – wood/timber – but I’m not sure what makes you think we used the wrong word. To quote from the definition of timber:

7. personal character or quality: He’s being talked up as presidential timber. GBU Editor

Senator Edward Kennedy in 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

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I fear English Teacher is right.
The Oxford dictionary definition of timber can be found here — ber?view=uk
And what does the Reuters style guide say? Or the AP style guide that Reuters uses in the States?
While some dictionaries do accept timber in this context, it’s always listed as the least used definition (Webster’s places it at the bottom of 5 options — http://www.websters-online-dictionary.or g/definition/timber).
A look at the roots of timber and timber show that timber is simply a lazy modern corruption of timbre.
But, then, I still believe decimate means, as it should, to reduce by one tenth.
Next, we’ll have mute replacing moot (apologies to the My Name is Earl skit).

Posted by Boot | Report as abusive

Dear Boot,

I should have better things to do on a Sunday, but I guess your clear reference to the Waugh masterpiece “Scoop” gives me some obligation to reply. Heck, I’d probably even know you if I saw you in a pub.

To simplify this one, the question was not which is the better spelling of timber in this context. Ours was accused of being incorrect, which even by your account it was not.

In our version of timber is the only one that applies in this sentence; I see nothing like it under timbre. Nor do I see any reference to timber being a lazy modern corruption.

I don’t see timber or timber in either the Reuters or AP style guides, unless they are tucked in under some other category.

Regarding decimate, I too regret the loss of the original meaning, but languages do evolve, sometimes in ways we don’t like. Looking in the Reuters style guide for the word, I find:


Literally to reduce by one-tenth, loosely to reduce very heavily. Not, however, to virtually wipe out.

I guess I can live with that definition: GBU Editor

Posted by Robert Basler | Report as abusive