It’s not just what Trump says; it’s how he says it.
Barton Swaim writes: every political commentator in America has now written at least one piece attempting to explain the mystery of Donald Trump’s appeal. Most have dealt with the man’s demeanor, his talent for attracting media coverage and his disdain for party and
intellectual elites. Some of these I find cogent.
The thing I find most distinctive about Trump, though — and perhaps it’s at least a component of his success so far — is the structure of his language.
Everybody senses that Trump doesn’t speak like other politicians. But how is his speech different, exactly? Is it just the swagger, the dismissive tone and clipped accent? Maybe in part. Trump does seem emotionally engaged in a way none of his competitors do; he is perpetually annoyed — exasperated that things aren’t as they should be — but somehow also good-humored about it. (Chris Christie and John Kasich seem perpetually annoyed, too, but there is nothing funny or cheerful about their versions.)
To get at what makes Trump’s language different, take a look at the shape of his sentences. They don’t work the way modern political rhetoric does — they work the way punchlines work: short (sometimes very short) with the most important words at the end.
“Some of his answers last only a few seconds, some are slightly longer, but almost all consist of simple sentences, grammatically and conceptually, and most of them withhold their most important word or phrase until the very end.”
That’s rare among modern politicians, and not simply because they lack Trump’s showmanship or comedic gifts. It’s rare because most successful modern politicians are habitually careful with their language. They are keenly aware of the ways in which any word they speak may be interpreted or misinterpreted by journalists and partisan groups and constituencies and demographic groups.
“Trump’s sentences end with a pop, and he seems to know instinctively where to put the emphasis in each one.“
And so in important situations — situations in which they know a lot depends on what they say or don’t say — their language takes on (at least) two peculiar characteristics. First, their syntax tends to abstraction. They speak less about particular things and people — bills, countries, identifiable officials — and more about “legislation” and “the international community” and “officials” and “industry” and “Washington” and “government.”
Second, their sentences take on a higher number of subordinate clauses and qualifying phrases — “over the last several years,” “in general,” “in effect,” “what people are telling me,” and so on. This is the kind of language you use when you’re aware that your words might be misinterpreted or used against you.
“Politicians are frequently too careful with their language, and this conscientiousness can begin to sound like deceit or cowardice. When they rely too heavily on abstractions, when they avoid concrete nouns, when all their statements seem always hedged by qualifying phrases, they sound like politicians, in the worst sense of the word.”
When used well, it conveys competence and assures listeners that the speaker thinks coherent thoughts and holds reasonable positions. It suggests that the speaker cares about the truth of his claims. But politicians are frequently too careful with their language, and this conscientiousness can begin to sound like deceit or cowardice. When they rely too heavily on abstractions, when they avoid concrete nouns, when all their statements seem always hedged by qualifying phrases, they sound like politicians, in the worst sense of the word. To my ear, anyway, Hillary Clinton sounds this way almost all the time. Read the rest of this entry »
Kory Stamper writes: Everyone knows that slang is informal speech, usually invented by reckless young people, who are ruining proper English. These obnoxious upstart words are vapid and worthless, say the guardians of good usage, and lexicographers like me should be preserving language that has a lineage, well-bred words with wholesome backgrounds, rather than recording the modish vulgarities of street argot.
In fact, much of today’s slang has older and more venerable roots than most people realize.
Take “swag.” As a noun (“Check out my swag, yo / I walk like a ballplayer” — Jay Z), a verb (“I smash this verse / and I swag and surf” — Lil Wayne), an adjective (“I got ya slippin’ on my swag juice” — Eminem), and even as an interjection (“Say hello to falsetto in three, two, swag” — Justin Bieber), swag refers to a sense of confidence and style. It’s slangy enough that few dictionaries have entered it yet. Read the rest of this entry »
Israeli street art reveals the history, culture and slang of an area – and a great way to learn how to speak to Sabras.
Want to learn Hebrew as it’s spoken on the street? Come along as linguist Guy Sharett gives one of his popular but highly unconventional Streetwise Hebrew language lessons through the graffiti of South Tel Aviv.
Last week Joe Biden’s excessive use of the word literally in his speech at the DNC had the word again the talk of the Internet. It wasn’t incorrect, exactly, even if it wasn’t the absolute cleanest of speech-making techniques, per se. I wrote a post explaining that, contrary to popular belief, his use of the term was hyperbole, an accepted meaning of the phrase, and I listed a number of other “crutch words” and phrases that we are wont to throw around too easily in common and formal conversation alike. Among those phrases: As it were, actually, basically, um, like, apparently.
Of course, we didn’t list all the crutch words, because it appears we’re living in a crutch word epidemic. There are so many! Many of you got in touch to share your own hate-favorites as well as to complain about your experiences with coworkers who are always saying, “Let me be clear,” or otherwise beloved friends who won’t stop peppering their sentences with fascinating when you’re pretty sure they mean anything but. Others complained that we were being too judgy about crutch words, and perhaps they’re right, but whatever. Here’s a handy compendium of additional crutch words, those verbal (and sometimes written) pauses that we just can’t seem to help using, culled from your comments and emailed insights, along with a bit of our own. No adverb is safe, as one person informed me. She may be right. Right?
And so forth and so on. Via a dialogue in our comments:”I have a co-worker that uses and so forth and so on many times in a conversation. It’s infuriating.” “Yes! It’s like the person is either leaving out part of the story that you may want to hear or just doesn’t care much about what they’re saying to you. Not a fan!”
Definitely. Definitely! Also: Absolutely.
Essentially. “A highbrow version of basically.”
Exponentially. “How could you leave out exponentially, a crutch word that might be used accurately once in a thousand times? Something grows exponentially when it grows by the same factor repeatedly over many periods of time, as in compound interest or the population of rabbits in the absence of predators. The exponent can be negative as well, but when used as a crutch the speaker never is referring to that aspect!”
Fantastic. “I’ve noticed that a lot of people say something is fantastic but don’t at all mean to suggest that the thing comes out of the world of fantasy and imagination. People say something is incredible but they don’t meant it’s devoid of validity, but mean they were unprepared for the event. People say something is unbelievable when the thing doesn’t require belief at all, just a pair of eyes to see what’s in front of them,” explains one commenter.
Fascinating. Rarely used with earnest intent; prone to seeming patronizing even if it isn’t. Try it, say fascinating like you think whatever it is you’re responding to is, in fact, fascinating. It’s difficult.
(and my all-time pet peeve one! This one!–Ed.)
Going forward. Better to give an actual implementation/start date to which one will go forward, because save a time machine, we are not going backward…
Read it all, it’s good!
via The Atlantic Wire.