Service of Word Choice: dictionary.com Has The Answers
April 14th, 2016
Categories: Education, Politicians, Words
Are you familiar with fracking, incarceration and incendiary? These were words used by presidential candidates for which dictionary.com recorded brisk activity during debates for president.
Some words that President Obama used recently were “incontrovertible and overt.” The President “continues to influence word searches,” according to Rebekah Otto, director of content at the word website wrote Charles Bethea in his New Yorker article “Stumped.” Grace “trended” when the President sang “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy for Reverend Pinckney.
“Dictionary.com has a feature called Word of the Day; its lexicographers send vocabulary words to a subscriber list of nineteen million,” wrote Bethea. “Sometimes the linguists appear to be editorializing. Last Friday, after two more town halls, the site offered ‘ninnyhammer’ (‘a fool or simpleton’). Other recent selections, following primaries and caucuses: ‘rabble-rouser’ (‘Our users love agent nouns like this,’ Otto said), ‘rodomontade’ (‘vainglorious boasting or bragging’), and ‘skulduggery’ (‘dishonorable proceedings’).”
The content director loves it when words are misused such as when, in her speech endorsing D. Trump, Sarah Palin spoke of “squirmishes.” Otto described the word as “an unintentional portmanteau marrying squirm and skirmish.” She confirmed that bigly is a word, if little used. Trump chose it when he announced his candidacy.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Bethea’s column was Otto’s analysis of words most used by candidates during recent debates. Because unscripted they are more telling–”exploring each candidate’s linguistic essence.” Otto listed: “Clinton: systemic, children, seller. Sanders: speculation, tuition-free, cease-fire. Cruz: utterly, whatsoever, booming. Kasich: blue-collar, surplus, formula. Trump: nasty, sudden, tremendous.” Otto noted that the two Democrats use “concrete language” vs. the Republicans who use “descriptive language,” adding “with the possible exception of Kasich.”
Bet you can guess which candidate made which quote when Clinton and Trump addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee–AIPAC:
- “If we look at the broader regional context, converging interests between Israel and key Arab states could make it possible to promote progress.”
- “What kind of demented minds write that in Hebrew?”
Were you familiar with all the words that Bethea reported generated vigorous searches on dictionary.com or that the staff selected for its Word of the Day? I didn’t know either ninnyhammer or rodomontade. What can you tell about a candidate by his/her word choice? What about the citizens who look up the words—are they curious or uneducated?