Current East Coast ‘Perfect’ Storm storms pushes Frankenstorm words over qualifying criteria
Austin, Texas, October 29, 2012 – ‘Frankenstorm,’ the massive hybrid storm (combination Nor’Easter / Hurricane) currently churning up the Eastern Coast of the United States, has passed the minimum criteria to be considered an English-Language word according to Austin-based Global Language Monitor. The number of citations of Frankenstorm have increased 1000-fold in the last few days.
The storm is officially dubbed Hurricane Sandy, according to the the National Hurricane Center. The names of tropical storms are officially maintained by the World Meteorological Organization.
The names are chosen in advance and rotated every six years. The Strongest storms, those deemed with historical significance are retired into a sort of Hurricane Hall of Fame.
Austin, Texas. October 23 — The President chose to go on the attack in the Third Presidential Debate last night; in a sort of reverse ‘rope-a-Hope’ strategy the challenger attempted to defuse the pummeling by not quite praising the President’s efforts but, rather, agreeing with him whenever it was even remotely possible. This was the Obama of 2008, though the pounding spoke less of hope and change & more of a desperate attempt to please his base.
For all the chest-pounding on the President’s side of the aisle, er, Spin Room, the fact remained that Obama was back in familiar territory of long sentences, a relatively high usage of the passive voice, with a lower reading ease, and attendant higher grade level scores. Once again, the higher use of the passive voice often is interpreted as attempting to evade ownership or shift responsibility. Obama’s use of passive was more than double his use in the Second Debate. Typically, a bellicose style does not win over the undecided, who seek to be more reassured than shouted at.
Romney’s numbers were remarkably similar during all three debates, which apparently reflects his steady, controlled, ‘gee willikers’-type personality, with a direct, if quaint, speaking style. This is a style of moderate-length, declarative sentences, with little use of the passive voice, and short, direct, and easy to understand words.
Both candidates were attempting to sound (and look) presidential and it was apparent that the second task was quite wearying. Holding back on Biden-esque smirks and Al Gore-ish disdain, feigning interest while keeping their talking points in mind, looked to take a singular toll.
Now the question remains if the Third Debate, along with a narrow win in the Second, is enough to unwind the havoc wrought by Debate No. 1, which introduced Mitt 2.0 (or even 3.0) upon an unsuspecting American electorate. Indeed, who knew that Mr. Romney could even affect let alone reverse his apparent off-course trajectory in a 90-minute span? Seldom has the course of a major American campaign change in a shorter amount of time. And seldom has a foregone conclusion, Obama winning an electoral landslide, collapsed as suddenly.
Austin, TEXAS. October 17, 2012. The President Obama of yore (2008, that is) showed up at the debate last night and so was hailed the victor. In fact, the numbers show that it was not that Romney faltered. He did not. Rather it was the President who recovered from his first debate ‘debacle’ (as viewed by his strongest supporters).
The numbers reveal the story. First, keep this number in mind: 7.4. This is the grade level of Obama’s most widely hailed speech, the “Yes, We Can!” Grant Park victory speech. ‘Yes, We Can!” is widely perceived as a classic to be enshrined in the American Oratory Hall of Fame along side Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream,” Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,’ and Ronald Reagan’s “City on a Hill” speeches.
In the first Presidential debate, Obama’s grade level came in at 9.2. For a debate, with all its give-and-take, interruptions, pauses and the like, that was a rather high number. A Town Hall meeting is definitely not the place for the grandiloquent turn of phrase, especially when you are trying to woo the undecided citizens of the land with plain speakin’ — no matter how uncomfortable that might be.
We all told in sixth grade that a newspaper should be written at the sixth-grade level, which from the sixth-grade perspective can be quite a challenge. What this really translates to is short sentences, concise paragraphs, fewer polysyllabic words, and all written in active voice.
As an example, Joe Biden spoke at a sixth grade level (6.1) in the vice presidential debate and there were few who claimed the inability to understand Ol’ Joe. (Unfortunately, these tests do not evaluate facial expressions.) In last night’s debate , Obama scored 7.2 in the grade-level score, about 28% lower (and in this case better) than his first debate — and nearly identical to his Grant Park discourse.
Both Romney and Obama cut their used of passive voice nearly in half from 6% to 4% and 3%, respectively. Active voice, where the subject is the doer of the action, is always preferred over passive voice in political discourse since it can be used to avoid responsibility. (‘Taxes were raised’ rather than ‘I raise raised the taxes.)
Finally, Obama’s reading ease score improved over 8% from 63.1 to 70.1; Romney’s remained a bit higher at 71.0.
In champion fights, the unwritten rule is that you never take the current champ’s crown away on — points unless the victory is overwhelming. Last night the President showed up to fight, and thus is awarded the victory on points. So the Presidential Debate series now stands even at 0ne all, with the rubber (and deciding) match to take place next week.
October 16, Austin, Texas — (Opinion) We have seen this all before in politics, in the board room, on the ball fields, and in life. The person at the top of the pecking order makes a misstep, seemingly minor, and then cascades into something major, and then cascades further still until it become calamitous — unless it can be stopped in time. Time is of the essence here. It must be squelched immediately, or sooner. And hopefully sooner still.
Perhaps it is ironic that one of the best examples was that of Mitt Romney’s Dad, George, in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination back in the late ’60s. George Romney claimed that he had been ‘brainwashed’ by the U.S. military and diplomatic personnel on a visit to Vietnnam. “Romney brainwashed’ screamed the headlines. And that was all it took for his campaign to unravel.
Even a youthful observer could understand that Romney was using what in literature is known as synecdoche, where a part is used to represent something far larger. I have since seen this repeated scores of times in political confrontations of all types most recently in the Arab Spring. Today, we label this kind of support ‘shallow’ where a significant number of supporters are ready to abandon their candidate at the first instance that a viable alternative arises.
Could this explain what we saw in the aftermath of the first debate? It seems unlikely, but nevertheless could explain the remarkable transformation of the presidential contest we are now witnessing. I should note that it also doesn’t mean the the president will lose on November 6th. His lead is structural, both in terms of constituents as well as geography. There are many paths available for Obama to construct a electoral majority. For Romney the options are far fewer. Even if Romney’s momentum continues to build, there is a possibility of Romney eking out a slim victory in the popular vote, while losing by a far larger margin in the Electoral College.
The stakes in Tuesday’s debate could not be higher. For Romney the task is to build upon his momentum, for Obama it is to halt Romney in his tracks before he loses complete control of the race.
Paul JJ Payack, president, Global Language Monitor
A slightly different version of this article appeared on TheHill.com on October 15, 2012.
Two words can be used to distill the essence of Thursday Night’s Vice Presidential Debate: Malarkey Vs. Adorkable.
On the one hand you have Joe Biden in familiar territory talking, interrupting, spinning, smiling feverishly to help the Democrats regain control of the political narrative after the widely perceived misteps of the president in the first Presidential Debate; on the other you have Paul Ryan, the wunder wonk, attempting to demonstrate 1) that he is NOT Sarah Palin, and 2) that he is more than simply a policy wonk and has the attendant seriousness, intelligence and skill set necessary to sit a heartbeat away from the presidency. Both succeeded in their appointed tasks.
Though Biden used the term ‘malarkey’ to describe Ryan’s debate performance, it was Biden who more closely typified the concept of ‘malarkey’ (bluster). Ryan did not stray too far from his policy wonk persona, but was fortunate that dorks, nerds and wonks are now in fashion. Hence the term ‘adorkable’ for ‘adorable dork’. In fact, The Global Language Monitor had named ‘adorkable’ as the Top Television Word of the Year just a month or so ago.
In terms of language usage, Biden used about 30% more passive voice than Ryan. Many believe that the passive voice is used to shade the truth, opposed to simple declarative sentences. Ryan and Biden both were relatively easy to understand according to the standardized algorithms coming in at 69.4 and 72.6 on the Reading Ease Scale. As for Grade Level, Ryan came in at 6.6, while Biden scored a 6.1. For comparison, Obama scored a 9.2 and Romney a 6.8 in their first debate.
(As a side note, Biden’s score (6.1) was the lowest ever recorded in a debate, surpassing Ross Perot’s previous low of 6.3).
Austin, Texas. October 9, 2012 — The controversy swirling around Obama’s debate performance completely misses the point. For better or worse, this is it. Stripped of all pretension. Devoid of the catch phrases and the swoons. Minus the Hollywood glam. This is he. Barack Obama. The man, unadorned. No longer do we see Obama through a glass dimly. Now we see him for who he is. This is neither to embellish nor dis-embellish the man. This is to see things for what they are and not what they ought — or ought not — to be.
At the Global Language Monitor we understand that life is not an exit poll; we cannot shape the reality of how we just voted. It is a zero-sum thing, a binary action, a one or a zero, a yes or a no. In the same manner we have tracked the narrative of Barack Obama the preceding five years, stripped of all adornment, searching for the reality that was all too frequently, standing right before us, actually in our midst, if only we had the will to open our eyes to see.
Of course we have unabashedly published our findings along the way but at that time our findings seemed a bit out-of-step, as indeed they were. Out-of-step with the perceived reality, but in step with reality as it was. Unlike most of life, a new president is graced with a honeymoon period, when missteps are overlooked, forgotten, or forgiven. This is not the ‘suspension of disbelief’ that allows us to enjoy a fantastical story in the cinema but rather a ‘suspension of self-interest,’ where we put aside our partisan differences and wait. We wait for the cues and signals, both small and large, that will reveal the intentions, proclivities, and (dare I say it?) the character of the incumbent.
For some presidents this grace period is over nearly before it starts (Gerald Ford and George W. Bush come to mind). For others, it lasts a bit longer (George H.W. Bush), and for others longer still (Ronald Reagan). In the case of Barack Obama, the situation was markedly different. Being a black man, most Americans wanted him to succeed precisely because he was a black man. As a relative outsider, he was a welcome break from the recent past (and impending future) — Bush 41, Clinton 42, Bush 43, Clinton 44?
Being a newcomer, he was the classic tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which we could pour upon all our hopes and dreams. And change? Who on this planet did not want change from the preceding eight years: a divisive and disputed election, global terrorism and 9/11, two wars in the Middle East, a devastating tsunami, the inundation of one of America’s great cities, and to top it off, the global financial meltdown. All this being so, Barack Obama began his presidency with an extraordinarily large reservoir of good will. Let’s call this reservoir the Hope and Change Quotient (HCQ).
During Obama’s first days in office, the nation was engulfed in ‘anger and rage’? GLM analyzed the situation back in February 2009 and found that what was being reported as ‘anger’ was actually ‘frustration,’ while what was being reported as ‘rage’ was actually ‘despair’, a sense of foreboding or impending doom. GLM followed this rather odd undercurrent during the earliest, most hopeful, days of the Obama administration. The results were striking, especially, in contrast to the immense outpouring of global goodwill in response to the inauguration of Barack Obama, since the survey included the ten days immediately following Obama’s swearing in. Some of the keywords showing heightened awareness were Abandoned, Despair, Desperation, and Fear — all appearing in the media with double digit increases over the pre-election period. This was perhaps an abberation we thought, but as we moved forward, the pattern continued unabated.
We saw a turning point with the Gulf Oil Spill speech. This was the opportunity to show the world how a US President would properly respond to a major crisis threatening the Gulf Coast, the ecosystem, and the forces of nature and the evil of Man (an arrogant CEO from Central casting, BP, Halliburton, and a 24×7 ‘Spill Cam’ spewing forth colorful filth, worthy of a Dreamworks 3-D treatment. And what did we get? We got what we had been measuring for the preceding two years: Obama 2.0, with an academic-sounding speech detailing a broad plan for an alternative-energy future and few specifics, and little of the hell-and-brimstone his followers had hope for.
By now it was becoming apparent for all to see. This was a changed and changing man, at least how he revealed himself publicly through speech. By time the 2010 Mid-Terms delivered their ‘shellacking’ the transformation was nearly complete. With a few noteworthy exceptions, such as his Tuscon eulogy,which ranked among his best, the President has appeared less-and-less engaged, more-and-more distant.
In July we noted that the top political buzzwords were telling a far different story than either campaign was presenting to the American people. Our analysis found that Bush was clearly assigned responsibility for the so-called Great Recession, while Obama was responsibility for the economy’s current condition, just as concern over Bain Capital and the ‘war against women’ were of less and little concern respectively. In other words, the American people saw the issues as if the virulent political ads of both parties did not exist. In contrast ‘Still believe the American Dream’ was No. 5 and ‘Disappointment in Obama Administration’ was No. 6.
At the same time, the Hope and Change Quotient has nearly been depleted, this being the normal course near the end of every president’s first term in recent memory. The President has finally been vetted. We now know the man, his strengths, weaknesses, and his proclivities. This is not to say that he will not win in his bid for re-election. But this is to say, that for better or worse, this is it.
This is the final narrative of Barack Obama.
GLM used NarrativeTracker Technology in this study. NarrativeTracker is based on the global discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what any audience is saying about any topic, at any point in time. NarrativeTracker analyzes the Internet, the top global print and electronic media, as well as new media sources as they emerge.
Paul JJ Payack is the president and Chief Word Analysts of Austin-based Global Language Monitor.
Austin Texas — October 4, 2012. In the first debate of the quadrennial Presidential Debate Season, it was like the 2010 Mid-terms all over again. Not that there were presidential debates in 2010. It’s just that President Obama seemed to revert to his ‘pre-shellacking’ public speaking form: a bit disengaged, a tad too dismissive and, dare we say it ‘professorial’?
Indeed, what seemed to surprise if not shock the 40,000,000 or so in last night’s viewing audience, was not the effective performance of Mitt Romney but rather the lackluster performance of the incumbent president. Many pundits had predicted the president would trounce his opponent in the debate, possibly creating an insurmountable gulf between them with some 30 days remaining before the election.
In mid-summer we published our Top Political Buzzwords of the Presidential Campaign and found profound differences between the actual concerns of the public and the political narratives of both parties. Last night’s debate was consistent with our findings; there was no talk of the politics of fear the ‘war against women’ of even mention of ‘the 47%’. However, the debate did point to profound difference in the belief systems of both parties, yet found enough common ground to produce distinct yet constructive and viable alternatives from which to choose.
One of the benefits of analyzing presidential debates, speeches and inaugural addresses for more than a decade, is the ability to make data-driven historical comparisons. These are especially effective when spotting trends and changes in direction. In 2007, spotted a man with a a truly captivating facility to turn an eloquent phrase. This man warranted comparisons with Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream’ and Reagan’s ‘Tear Down This Wall’ speeches with his own ‘Yes, We Can!’ victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park.
However, it also tracked Obama’s sojourn to a more ‘inaccessible,’ sometimes even pedestrian speaking style. There were a number of turning points, a number of these occurring in 2010.
The numbers from last might’s debate bear this changing dynamic this out. For the President, the numbers tracked with his BP Gulf Oil Speech: long sentences, more passive voice, and a ninth-grade reading level (all of which can be signatures of considerable erudition). However, the numbers can also signify a less direct, less immediate communications style that differs considerably from the Obama to whom we were first introduced.
For Romney, his numbers were the reverse of the President (at least for the night): shorter sentences, easier to understand, his seventh-grade reading level closer to the of Obama of Grant Park.