Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pronouns: George F. Will are not amused

The pronouns are back, and George F. Will's got 'em! But first, of course, the obligatory sideswipe at the Kenyan usurper:

Trump, who uses the first-person singular pronoun even more than the previous world-record holder (Obama), promises that constitutional arrangements need be no impediment to the leader’s savvy, “management” brilliance and iron will.

In case you've been holed up in the survival bunker hoping the freeze-dried food lasts until January 2017: No. Obama doesn't even crack the presidential Top 10 in first-person-singular use, and if he did, the derpmongers who've been most assiduous in spreading that particular fable -- mostly Will and Charles Krauthammer -- would be no closer to proving him the narcissistic, arrogant fraud of their nightmares, because that's not even enough of a correlation to be a bogus correlation. But this column is about a different candidate from a different party, so let's have a quick look at Trump's presidential announcement, as reported by the New York Daily News.

There are always going to be challenges in getting an exact ratio of FPS pronouns to words. When the same paragraph (or the transcriber's best guess at it) contains "the $5 billion website" and "a $5 billion dollar website," how many words were spoken each time? (And, if don't set your watch by AP style, what happens if we make it "Web site," two words, as God ordained?) But letting MS Word do the overall word-counting, and tallying "I," "me," "my," etc. by hand, Trump comes in around 4.4%, which -- going by the MSNBC chart reproduced at Language Log* -- puts him about even with Ike and Bush Sr. but behind the notoriously uppity taciturn Harry Truman.

That's not counting reported or quasi-reported speech: Trump using "I" when speaking as someone else, as with "friend of mine" here:

And it’s impossible for our people here to compete. So I want to tell you this story. Friend of mine if a great manufacturer. Calls me up a few weeks ago, he’s very upset.

I said, ‘What’s your problem?’

He said, ‘You know, I make a great product.’

I said, ‘I know, I know that, because I buy the product.’

He said, ‘I can’t get it into China. They won’t accept it. I sent a boat over and they actually sent it back. They talked about environmental, they talked about all sorts of crap that had nothing to do with it.’

Throw in the 18 cases of FPS meaning someone else and we're still under 4.8% -- high for a president on most of the metrics people have used, but not in anything a competent analyst would want to risk calling world record territory. And that says more about George F. Will's political acumen than about Donald Trump's. It's nice that his editors woke up long enough to add the shirttail pointing out that Will's wife works for Scott Walker these days; imagine if they lengthened it a bit by pointing out that fact claims in the column itself are unlikely to be true at better than coin-toss levels.

* The one-stop shop for your presidential FPS needs

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