George W. Bush Jokes About the Words He Makes Up While Debating the Word 'Literally'

The former president shared his hot take after his daughter and Today co-host Jenna Bush Hager cold-called him for a grammar lesson

Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush Hager, George W. Bush
From left: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager.

George W. Bush wishes people would stop overusing the word "literally."

The former president called into the Today show after daughter Jenna Bush Hager tried to ring him twice in the middle of a grammar debate with her co-host Hoda Kotb about when it's appropriate to use "literally" when speaking.

"I think the word 'literally' is overused for several reasons," Bush, 74, said, as he began making his case over the phone to Kotb. "One, it's misunderstood. Two, it's become a convenient habit."

Bush said "literally" should probably only be used when referring to literature ... before he paused to point out the obvious punchline with his vocabulary opinions.

"I'm confident there are people who are better wordsmiths than me. I'm the guy that came up with 'strategery,' " he joked, referring to Will Ferrell's famous impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live, in which that word was first coined. "You might want to consult them."

"I have just been on a campaign to try to get people to use 'literally' less," Bush added.

(More recently, in an interview with PEOPLE, Bush playfully riffed on the word "rapport" — "reportwheel, reportrial, however you say it.")

His unexpected Today call happened after Hager, 39, and Kotb, 56, had launched into a debate over the word at the top of the show, laughing as the former first daughter tried cold-calling the former president twice on live TV.

"Oh god, you're in trouble, this is not going to go well," Kotb said with a laugh, putting her head in her hand as Hager picked up her cellphone to call her dad.

After two unsuccessful calls, Kotb joked that the former president had been purposefully hanging up on his daughter. But later o Bush called back, sounding a bit nervous when his daughter picked up and asked for permission to put him on speaker phone on-air.

But the former president immediately perked up when Hager told him it was about a debate over the word "literally" and whether it's used too much and, many times, incorrectly.

"Okay, good, yeah," Bush said, accepting his daughter's invite. "Crank it up!"

laura george and jenna bush
From left: Laura Bush, George W. Bush and Jenna Bush Hager. Nathan Congleton/NBC

A reader poll on showed 91-percent of online readers agreed with Bush's take on the word "literally," saying it is overused.

The surprise Wednesday phone call marked the second time the former president has made an appearance on the Today show, co-hosted by his daughter, in recent months.

In April, Bush appeared to talk about his recent book of immigrant portraits, Out of Many, One, while he discussed how "proud" he has been watching his daughter's TV career take off.

He joked then that he "never imagined" Hager "would be a star" on television — just like, he said, he never imagined being in the White House.

"We're very proud of her and love her," he said.

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