The phrase tearing up in English means radically different things depending on the way you pronounce it. Both meanings relate to emotional states. When you tear up over something sad or moving — such as the announcement that a black fourth-grader has been awarded a scholarship by the president of the United States so that she can attend a better school — the expression means “having tears come to your eyes.” When you tear up a print-out of a State of the Union address, meaning “rending into pieces,” you are behaving defiantly and bitterly, especially when you perform your act of desecration in plain view of the president.
That’s what Speaker Nancy Pelosi did last night, explaining herself moments later by suggesting, “It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative.” She also made the deliberate decision to thumb her nose at “decades of tradition” by refusing to recite the words “I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you” in her introduction of the president. Among those who noticed was George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who tweeted:
Pelosi's act dishonored the institution and destroyed even the pretense of civility and decorum in the House. If this is the Speaker's "drop the mike" moment, it is a disgrace that should never be celebrated or repeated. In a single act, she obliterated decades of tradition.
— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) February 5, 2020
During the address, Pelosi peered off to her right for much of the evening as if getting or giving cues to her fellow Democrats, who also sat stony-faced. Sometimes she mouthed messages. At other times, she riffled through her copy of the address, sucking her teeth.
Too bad for her. It was a great speech with plenty of occasions for tearing up. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong moment and the wrong pronunciation.