According to Merriam-Webster, "misspeak" means to speak incorrectly.

In our politically correct times, it seems to be a kind way of saying a person is simply lying.

Politicians like Bill and Hillary Clinton and now, Barack Obama, are able to stretch the definition like the Washington pros they are.

The word "misspeak" had its origin in the 2008 presidential race when then Sen. Clinton's campaign said she may have "misspoke" when she said she had to evade sniper fire in 1996 during a visit to Bosnia as first lady.

It was no off-the-cuff remark. In describing the incident, Clinton described in detail how she had to run across a tarmac airfield in order to avoid sniper fire after landing. For once, the media did its job and found that in fact, there had been a ceasefire for months and when she arrived on site and the first lady simply walked across the tarmac to participate in a ceremony.

In the event a sniper did actually exist somewhere in the vicinity, it could lead one to give the first lady the benefit of a doubt and help support an exaggeration. But telling an outright lie to further a political ambition is the more likely choice which raises questions about credibility, a trait that more Washington leaders are having trouble with these days.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was recently criticized for falsely claiming that teachers were already "getting pink slips" with the arrival of sequestration. During the interview, Duncan carried out the president's fear offensive which was designed to pressure Republicans into folding.

First, on Feb. 21, Duncan said "schools are already starting to give teachers notices."

And then on Feb. 24, he repeated the lie: "It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need, and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can't come back this fall," Duncan said.

When the press challenged Duncan to identify districts that have begun laying off staff, he singled out Kanawha County, a community in West Virginia. Its education department, however, was unable to support the claim that any notices had been delivered. Duncan had to walk back the statement, admitting "Whether it's all sequester-related, I don't know."

Republicans quickly pounced, stating that Duncan was only carrying out Obama's strategy to over-hype the impact of the sequester and break the Republicans.

Officials in that county reported that "transfer notices" had gone out to at least 104 employees but the director of federal programs and Title 1 for the Kanawha County public schools said it did not have to do with sequestration. Further, she said most of those teachers were being notified that they could move to a different position and that only five or six positions would ultimately be eliminated.

Of course, Duncan and the White House backed off when the press turned up the heat.

"When I said 'pink slips' that was probably the wrong word," Duncan told reporters at a news conference related to the sequester. "Language matters, and I need to be very, very clear."

The education secretary is correct when he states that "language matters." Now all he needs to do is follow his own advice and not deliberately try to deceive millions of Americans in order to further his boss's liberal left-wing political agenda.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com