Bush’s Poodle?

No, not a political rant, but a discussion of how ideas spread.

How did Tony Blair end up with this nickname? A quick Google search finds more than 2,000 matches. Google Search: “bush’s poodle” .

My earliest cite is from September, 2002, but I don’t have the resources to find the original coiner of the phrase.

What I want to know is:
Why “poodle”? Why not “puppy” or “labrador”? Or, forget about dogs, what about any other range of vaguely insulting animal types?

How is it that this has spread and stuck?

Without question, poodle is a funny word. It has a funny vowel/dipthong connection and it’s fun to say. It is also somewhat dandy-esque, with the image of the beautifully coiffed french poodle hanging out there in the background.

Is this the sort of thing we can do on purpose? “Frequent Flyer Miles”, for example, have that marvelous F alliteration at the front. Does that explain why the phrase has stuck, while countless competitors offering things like Points have faded away?

Political discourse, of course, is filled with name calling, and sometimes the names spread. Tricky Dick had a nickname, but Gerald Ford didn’t. Dan Quayle got stuck with “potatoe”, but other vice presidents, certainly as dumb, got off easy. How come?

I know I’m asking a lot of unanswerable questions, and maybe it’s just because I couldn’t resist doing a blog entry entitled “Bush’s Poodle”. I think there’s something here though.

In order to maximize the currency of your chosen ideavirus, it helps if your slanderous positioning (or profitable meme) has a few characteristics:

1. self-explanatory–both the teller and the listener have a high chance of not feeling stupid.

2. verbally fun to pass on–the teller enjoys saying it even if the listener doesn’t enjoy hearing it.

3. a safe target–Vice presidents, felonious presidents and heads of foreign nations are pretty fair game. Remember Boutros Boutros Ghali?

4. TV (and now web) friendly–Dan Quayle, for example, was an easy mark because of images like this one. The Blair thing, while not image based, is the sort of phrase that just sounds great on the radio (I heard it three times yesterday).


As we think about spreading our own ideas, I think we can profit from seeing how they work in the world of politics. Whether you’re raising money for your non-profit (“Will you sponsor me for a walkathon”) or launching a new brand, picking the right phrase and image can accelerate the spread of your idea.