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"Yo, Blair. How are you doing?" was an informal[1] greeting that United States President George W. Bush gave to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations ("G8") in St Petersburg, Russia, on 17 July 2006. The quote gained wide popularity across the media.

Yo, Blair! is the title of a polemical 2006 book by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, attacking Blair on various issues, particularly his relationship with Bush.

Contents

The "Yo Blair" text

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister 1997-2007

There was considerable interest both in the "Yo, Blair" phrase itself and in the ensuing impromptu conversation which, although supposedly private, was picked up by a microphone. In the course of the exchange, Bush, among other things, thanked Blair for the gift of a sweater and, more importantly, referred to an armed conflict that had just broken out in Lebanon between Israeli forces and the Shi'a group Hezbollah ("What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit").[2]

Although the greeting was popularized as "Yo, Blair", some media outlets such as The New York Times[3] and The Washington Post[4] transcribed it as "Yeah, Blair".

"Yo, Blair" as a catchphrase

"Yo, Blair" or "Yo, [any surname]" almost immediately became a catchphrase in Britain. In her annual language report (2007) for the Oxford University Press, the lexicographer Susie Dent devoted over half a page to the term, including some of the references below.[1]

When Blair rose to make a statement in the House of Commons on 19 July 2006, he was greeted with cries from the Opposition benches of "Yo!".[5] A cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in The Sunday Times showed Bush in a rocking chair, dressed as a sheriff, directing his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "Yo, Condi. Better go check out that sh*t [sic]. Don't hurry".[6]

"Yo, Blair!": George W Bush, US President 2001-2009
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"Yo George"

This was the subject of a cartoon by Scarfe, reflecting on the Anglo-American "special relationship", in which Bush, atop scenes of devastation, disbursed unequal quantities of munitions for Israel and aid for Lebanon. A small, plaintive Blair looked on and, raising his hand, asked, "Yo George. I just wondered if I might have a word?".[7]

"Yo George", the highly political first track on Tori Amos' 2007 album American Doll Posse, is a direct reference to the "Yo, Blair" incident.[8]

"Yo Vicar": Private Eye

Predictably, the satirical magazine Private Eye began its regular spoof letter from the vicar of St Albion's parish church (the Rev. A.R.P. Blair, M.A.) with the greeting, "Yo!".[9] The ensuing epistle contained a range of variants, "Yo, Running Scared", "Yo Vicar" and "Yo, Dubya" (the latter invoking a well established play on Bush's middle initial).

"Yo" as slang

"Yo" has been used as an exclamation to attract attention since the 15th century,[10] as in the cry, "Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!" in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883). In the early 20th century "yo" was used in lower middle class British slang as a "declaration of admiration ... to the softer sex by the sterner".[11] From the late 20th century it frequently appeared in hip hop music and became associated with African American Vernacular English and also Afro-Caribbeans.

Former British Government Minister Denis MacShane observed that "Yo, Blair" was the American equivalent of "wotcher, mate" and that metaphorically Bush and Blair had been addressing each other using the French informal tu ("you") (as opposed to the more formal vous).[12]

"Pedigree Chum"

Some commentators detected in the "Yo Blair" encounter an air of condescension on Bush's part. For example, former British Foreign Secretary and NATO Secretary-General Lord Carrington reflected that "Iraq, and more recently Lebanon, have totally sidelined us. We have far less influence than we had. That 'Yo, Blair' exchange ... was so humiliating".[13] Towards the end of 2006 an analyst at the US State Department, Kendall Myers (who has since been charged with spying for Cuba), was widely quoted as claiming that, despite British efforts, "we typically ignore them - it's a sad business".[14]

Following a meeting in Washington between Bush and Blair on 28 July to discuss the situation in Lebanon, cartoonist for The Times Neil Bennett, depicted, above the caption, "Gifts were exchanged before the Washington summit", a Burberry bag (an allusion to "Yo Blair") being swapped for a tin of dog food marked "Pedigree Chum".[15] This was a reference to the charge of some that Blair had been acting as America's "poodle" (a metaphor which, though widely used towards the end of July 2006, dated back to 1907 when David Lloyd George referred to the British House of Lords as "Mr Balfour's Poodle").[16]

In May 2007 Bush denied that Blair was his "poodle", but remarked on his "dogged" style of leadership,[17] while Blair's biographer Anthony Seldon (whose painstaking two-volume work does not challenge "Yo, Blair" as the words used by Bush[citation needed]) took the view that the episode at St Petersburg did not justify the conclusion that Blair was Bush's "poodle", nor that "subservience" should be "read into the initial salutation".[18] Seldon noted that, when greeting Blair at the White House, he would typically welcome him with arms outstretched, yelling "Hey. Blair. How y'doing'?"

Harper event

On Monday July 7, 2008 at the 34th annual G8 summit in Toyako, Japan, while speaking with Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, Bush summoned Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a brusque "Yo Harper!" Much like in the UK, political and public reaction has been divided between this being an indication of the close relationship between the two, the subservience of Harper or simply another example of the "folksy" disposition of Bush.

Notes

  1. ^ a b Susie Dent (2007) The Language Report: English on the move 2000-2007
  2. ^ The Times, 22 July 2006
  3. ^ Amid Pomp, Bush Is Pumped and Chat Is Candid - New York Times
  4. ^ Bush Utters Expletive on Hezbollah Attacks
  5. ^ Blair archive - Prime Minister's Questions
  6. ^ Sunday Times, 23 July 2006
  7. ^ Sunday Times, 30 July 2006
  8. ^ CBC radio interview, 30 April 2007
  9. ^ Private Eye, 4 August 2006
  10. ^ Oxford Dictionary of New Words (1991)
  11. ^ J Redding Ware (1909) Passing English
  12. ^ Times, 22 July 2006
  13. ^ The Oldie, October 2006
  14. ^ London Evening Standard, 30 November 2006
  15. ^ Times, 29 July 2006
  16. ^ "A mastiff? It is the right hon. Gentleman's poodle": House of Commons, 26 June 1907. See also Roy Jenkins (1954) Mr Balfour's Poodle; R J Q Adams (2007) Balfour
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ Anthony Seldon (1997) Blair Unbound

See also

External links

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