Service of Word Choice: 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 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.

“ 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 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?

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8 Responses to “Service of Word Choice: Has The Answers”

  1. DManzaluni Said:

    I don’t believe the word search supposed results.

    I don’t believe that uneducated dummies sit in front of TVs all over America, keyboard in hand, and pick through the verbiage and try to look up word like incendiary because they don’t know what it means.

    To me it sounds like Google is trying to make it look as if people do this so that they can jack up their advertising rates. Plain and simple.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I, too, had a bit of trouble envisioning thousands looking up words on as they stare at the boob tube, and yet, some must, especially those who listen to the candidates who speak in words of more than one syllable.

    Don’t you look up words in books or in articles you’re not familiar with? It is so easy now. I tend to check Google, though is a good option. And I appreciate the work the site does to collect and analyze words used by candidates.

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    The President’s choice of language and sentence structure as well as his over all communications, whether extemporaneous or written, are generally impeccable, and stylistically a pleasure. The language on the Importance of Earnest Service is beautifully and elegantly written with a touch of grace and dry humour.

    The Editor of, Theresa Schmittroth, has been receiving the Word of the Day for years She speaks and writes beautifully both socially and for her research and publications. I rediscovered it and find it a delightful source of information.
    Sarah Palin is one of the all time greatest users of malaprops to hit the airwaves. She never seems to fail to expound absurd rhetoric with unintelligible or homemade words.

    By and large the language and phraseology of our current crop of candidates ranges from repetitious vocabulary, invented words (which I think date back to the Nixon years.) , words used in faulty contexts, words not generally used in polite company or grunts and noises. It seems like a very dreary period for anyone who enjoys language for coherent and pleasant communication.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree about the President. He has always been a pleasure to listen to. He is extraordinary–I would say the most articulate and engaging speaker of all Presidents in my lifetime. I am weak in the knees that you would even think of the way this blog is written within five days of thinking about how the President expresses himself but thank you for the kind words. Imagine being in his class should he decide to teach once retired from politics.

    I wish I could disagree about the grunts and made up words by other candidates and Ms. Palin. Uninspiring is the word that comes to mind. Shrieks and grimaces do not make up for words carefully chosen that illustrate that the speaker has thought through what he/she means to say and the best, most effective, calm way to say it.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I was only stumped by one term: Ninnyhammer! Great word — Love it, and must put it to use at once! There is a bumper crop of ninnyhammers running for office this year……There!

    While on the subject, all registered Democrats & Republicans, remember Tuesday’s primary. It promises to be a beautiful day, so hope to see you at the polls :))

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love the sound of ninnyhammer myself. I am impressed that you knew rodomontade. I’m not even sure how to pronounce it!

    And I second your campaign to encourage folks to vote. They must expect record numbers: Yesteday we got postcards sending us to a bigger venue for Tuesday’s primary!

  7. hb Said:

    Thank you. I didn’t know how extensive the candidates and commentators vocabularies have become. I also have been looking up words that I didn’t know, which is neither a surprise nor a sin. I know that the language is growing and changing far more rapidly than most of us realize, and I’m sadly unaware of the latest words to emerge especially in the popular vernacular, the sciences and technology. I think I know what an “amp” is, but is the new word “app” a derivative from it?

    What I find far more disturbing is the dismal state of publically speaking figures’ knowledge of old fashioned English grammar. With few exceptions, almost all television talkers butcher their use of the language. Someone gave me a copy of selected Churchill prose, most of it less than a century old. The comparison of it to present speech-making is depressing. If this keeps up we will soon be as incommunicado as Europe was when it lost Latin as its “lingua franca.”

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I take it you mean the unit of electric current–ampere? Not related to “app,” short for application, referring to software designed to perform something such as accepting credit card payments, calling for a car service, purchasing goods, telling passengers when the next bus is coming or providing travel directions. The app is downloaded to a mobile device.

    Technology is adding to the vocabulary, but for the most part, candidates aren’t filling the air with tech-talk, though some are taking clear advantage of social media. D. Trump goes wild on Twitter–we hear about his rants on the news almost daily–and Bernie Sanders’ team uses Youtube and Facebook to his advantage. Some 27,000 people found their way to Washington Square Park in NYC yesterday evening, largely thanks to Facebook postings, to hear Sanders speak, and countless others watched the streaming video of the entire rally on Youtube in real time or afterwards.

    I have not tried to pit President Obama’s words/speeches against Winston Churchill’s but I think they are equally well-spoken for their eras. I imagine that Churchill wrote all his words while the President has help with major speeches. Nevertheless his extemporaneous remarks improve with the years. He is mesmerizing when he speaks at funerals. I get a kick out of it when he tries his hand at comedy [and giggles with the audience], while Churchill was known for quippy, sophisticated, clever retorts.

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