State of the Union: What’s in a President’s Word?

25 01 2011

Some words feature prominently in every US presidential State of the Union message, others come and go as events dictate or fashions change.

As President Barack Obama prepares to address Congress, we look at the ups and downs of the 10 nouns and adjectives (and one pronoun) used most often since 1790.

And to play the game at home, try Speech Wars: the Words That Make a Nation. Enter a word and find out how it ranks in SOTU speeches. For example, I discovered “war” has been said 2,757 times and “education” a comparatively few 544 times. The notes at the BBC site suggest war is underrepresented, too, because during the VietNam era it wasn’t used in SOTU much — it wasn’t officially “war.” (Maybe that’s what is in a name too, what isn’t talked about?)

You can get colorful timeline graphs you just roll your mouse over to instantly see which president/s used that word or those words compared head-to-head, more and less. For example, I could easily see that war is always being talked about more than education! — except two points in time separated by 40 years, when a beloved general and a beloved draft avoider each briefly saw education as worth more mentions than war — Ike and Clinton.

Then I compared “spending” and “investment” because I heard Mitch McConnell making a big deal of that on Meet the Press. (Something about how Democrats aren’t capable of investment, only spending no matter what they say. Presumably GOP pols know the difference and can do both.)

Anyway, that difference and when it’s used was worth thinking about and easy to do in this new way: I instantly saw that neither word came up much, until a huge spike of “spending” during the GOP 70s and 80s (Nixon, Ford, Reagan but not Carter) upon which time Clinton switched dramatically back to a whole lot of “investment” — and then Bush switched right back to “spending” again! 😉

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One response

25 01 2011
JJ

I just did “lie” and “truth” and that’s interesting though who knows what it means, try it for yourself.

“Lie” was way ahead from Woodrow Wilson through Truman. Then it was “truth” up to the second Bush who midway through his eight years, suddenly abandoned “truth” and talked all “lie” again. Obama is back to all truth.

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