A Newt Gingrich soundbite caught my ear the other day. Complaining about his rival, Mitt Romney, he observed that the media “did exactly what Obama would do this fall, and kept replaying [Romney's quote] ‘Oh, I don’t really care about the poor.’ Which is not a very clever thing for someone who is very wealthy to say.”
It’s that clever–a very British use of the word, in my experience. The precise American equivalent is smart, or, more formally, intelligent. We actually use clever less to characterize a person then to describe shrewd or ingenious decisions or actions–or, if a person, then one who makes that sort of decision. British people often talk about “clever children,” or a “a clever child.” Americans, never.
Except for Newt Gingrich, who seems to be trying to bring the British usage over here. I found another quote of his, dated January 26: “The message we should give Mitt Romney is you know, ‘We aren’t that stupid and you aren’t that clever.’”
But Newt, as David St. Hubbins so sagely pointed … well, read the caption above.