The Vice-President and The "Potatoe" Kid

Throughout his time as US Vice President, Dan Quayle was widely ridiculed in the media and by many in the general public, in both the USA and overseas, as an intellectual lightweight. One reason was that he sometimes made confused or garbled statements, although this tendency led to his being "credited" with apocryphal quotations. His most famous blunder was when he corrected student William Figueroa's correct spelling of "potato" as "potatoe" at an elementary school spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey, on June 15, 1992. Quayle was said to have been relying on a spelling-bee card on which the word had been misspelled by the teacher.

The story became international news; Figueroa was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman and was asked to lead the pledge of allegiance at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

The event became a lasting part of Quayle's reputation. It was widely lambasted by comedians and commentators as a demonstration of his apparent stupidity.

Quayle received the satirical Ig Nobel Prize for "demonstrating, better than anyone else, the need for science education" in 1991. Other critics facetiously remarked that he was a good reason for even Bush's critics to pray for his health (Quayle as President "is just a heartbeat away...") and that he was the only Vice President to make a President "impeachment-proof." The misspelling incident remains a source of ridicule of Quayle.---Wikipedia

Everything2 has the full account, including what happened to William Fiqueroa, the Potatoe Kid.

"The date was June 15, 1992. It was campaign season. President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle were losing ground in the polls, and on this Monday morning Quayle was scheduled for a few campaign stops. After a 45-minute speech in Manhattan on the failure of Democratic policies in New York, it was time to head down to the Munoz Rivera School in Trenton, New Jersey, where the vapid veep was scheduled to sit in on the "Weed and Seed" anti-drug program, followed by a staged spelling bee.

Enter spelling bee participant William Figueroa, a chubby Puerto Rican 12-year-old from South Trenton whose unintentional stint in the political sphere would soon become the subject of many a comic routine. Figueroa stood at the chalkboard. The word was given: Potato. He printed it out in chalk: P-O-T-A-T-O.

"You're close," Quayle said, "but you left a little something off. The e on the end."

Young William was pretty sure he'd gotten the word right, but since this was the Vice President talking, he added the "e" anyway and sat down as scant applause came from the onlookers. When the event wrapped up, a reporter approached him, clutching a dictionary. He asked, "Did you know that you spelled potato right?"

The rest is pure gold. At a press conference held afterward, a reporter (perhaps the same one as before) was called on by Quayle for a question. The inevitable question came, "How do you spell potato?" Quayle (according to his 1994 memoir, Standing Firm) "...gave him a puzzled look, and then the press started laughing. It wasn't until that moment that (Quayle) realized anything was wrong." Apparently, none of Quayle's staff had informed him of his gaffe.

Word of Quayle's "Spud Problem" spread quickly, and William Figueroa enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame. Local paper The Trentonian carried a quote from Figueroa the following day saying the spelling bee "showed the rumors about the vice president are true -- that he's an idiot" (Figueroa now claims that he was misquoted). David Letterman got the kid's number from the newspaper and invited him onto his show. While on national TV, Figueroa refused to call the Vice President an idiot (Trenton mayor Doug Palmer had apparently warned his parents that "Weed and Seed" funding could be slashed if William angered Dan Quayle). He did say this, however: "I know he's not an idiot, but he needs to study more. Do you have to go to college to be Vice President?"

"Potatogate" went beyond late-night punchlines. It was the perfect opportunity for politicians to laugh and point. Bill Clinton and Al Gore turned that hay into political gold, and even flew Figueroa in to the Democratic National Convention to deliver the Pledge of Allegiance. He became known as The Potato Kid throughout the United States. In his grandparents' home country of Puerto Rico, he was known as "El rey de la papa" (The Potato King). He marched in Trenton's Puerto Rican Day Parade.

What is William Figueroa doing these days? In August of 2004, New York Times reporter Mark Fass caught up with him to ask a few questions. It turns out that the boy who would be king was a high-school dropout with a child of his own by the age of 16. By 24, he'd had 3 kids and was working at Wal-Mart."

Dan Quayle "Potatoe" Gallery

Quail Cove brand potato (with an "e") bag
Corwith Farms, Inc., Water Mill, NY

"Nose It All," 1999 calendar (Everyone Nose a Nose-It-All)
Accord Publishing Inc., Denver, CO

Washington Post, June 20, 1992

Philadelphia Daily News, June 16,1992

Dan Quayle as a potato head

Satirical campaign button

(c) 1998 Lew Little Enterprises Dist. United Features

An Alternative Spelling for Potato

If GH stands for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau
then POTATO could be spelled:



Capital Century, Trenton, NJ, USA


The Quayle Spelling Guide Can you spell potato? English Spelling Irregularities

The Dan Quayle Diktionary compiled by James Wynbrandt, NY, Berkley Books, 1992