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The term “inartful” is often used to describe statements or actions that are clumsily executed or poorly communicated, potentially leading to misunderstandings or negative public perception.

Whether it’s a policy proposal that fails to resonate with its intended audience or a public statement that inadvertently sparks controversy, an inartful maneuver can derail a political message or campaign.

In a field where rhetoric and presentation are scrutinized and can have far-reaching implications, being labeled as inartful can serve as a cautionary note, signaling the need for greater strategic finesse and communicative skill.

An inartful comment can also sometimes be called a gaffe.

More on “Inartful”

The polite political word for “dumb,” especially when an elected official or his or her spokespeople grope to explain something they said earlier.

Inartful—along with its linguistic cousins “counterproductive” and “I misspoke”—has long been a fixture in politics. The late language expert William Safire, looking at “inartful” in 1985, noted that “artful” originally meant “adroit,” then became synonymous with crafty or wily. “Thus, with artful meaning ‘wily,’ inartful would mean ‘not wily’ and would be a compliment,” Safire wrote. However, to use it as another way of saying “I goofed”—as New York governor Mario Cuomo did at the time—“makes no sense,” Safire added. “Depending on his specific intent, he could have chosen insensitive, cruel, thoughtless or even impolitic.”

Republican Scott Walker’s evasion of a British reporter’s question in February 2015 about whether he believed in evolution prompted this headline from Washington Post opinion columnist Richard Cohen’s castigation of the Wisconsin governor: “Walker’s Inartful Dodge in London.” Another Republican, Ben Carson, in walking back an earlier assertion endorsing the ownership of semiautomatic weapons for people who live “out in the country somewhere by yourself,” called that comment “perhaps a little inartful.”

Hillary Clinton also turned to the word in the aftermath of the furor she caused in 2014 when she lamented that she and her husband were “dead broke” upon leaving the White House in 2001. “I shouldn’t have said the five or so words that I said, but my inartful use of those few words doesn’t change who I am, what I’ve stood for my entire life, what I stand for today,” she told PBS.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s June 2015 opinion in the King v. Burwell case essentially preserving the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) also shed new light on the art of “inartful.” Roberts wrote that the original law “contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” which he and five other justices said necessitated the court to step in and uphold the creation of the state exchanges that the law established.

From Doubletalk © 2016 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Inartful” in a sentence

  • The candidate’s inartful phrasing during the debate left voters confused about his stance on healthcare, providing an opening for his opponent to seize the narrative.
  • The administration faced backlash for its inartful handling of the press conference, leaving more questions than answers and fueling speculation.
  • Legislators criticized the inartful drafting of the bill, arguing that its ambiguous language could lead to unintended consequences if passed into law.