Friday, July 15, 2016

X marks the pronoun

The Great Pronoun Meme by itself is no longer all that interesting (though I suppose we could start a pool on what sort of fictional trait might be demonstrated by pronoun frequency with a woman as chief executive). But it's still worth watching where the thing crops up and what new forms it takes, especially when it co-occurs with a new plaything like "Micah X." Here's the Daily Caller tale linked by Drudge above:
President Obama referred to himself 45 times over the course of the speech he delivered Tuesday at the memorial service for the five police officers killed in Dallas last week.

Obama referred to himself twice before finishing his opening salutations and before mentioning the slain officers or their families. After noting the presence of President Bush, members of Congress and Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings, Obama appeared to go off-script.

“Chief Brown, I’m so glad I met Michelle first because she loves Stevie Wonder,” Obama said, jokingly referencing Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s earlier speech in which Brown quoted lyrics from the song “As” in tribute to the deceased.

"Mentioning" and "referring to" himself are a bit of a new twist (though when we go to the scoreboard, it's going to be pretty much the same old pronoun count). What makes this one really distinctive is the opportunity for direct comparison with a white guy: George W. Bush, who also spoke at the event.

Obama: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Mr. President and Mrs. Bush, my friend the vice president, and Dr. Biden, Mayor Rawlings, Chief Stiller, clergy, members of Congress, Chief Brown. I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder.

Bush: Thank you all. Thank you, Senator. I, too, am really pleased that President Obama and Mrs. Obama have come down to Dallas. I also want to welcome Vice President and Dr. Biden. Mr. Mayor, Chief Brown, elected officials, members of the law enforcement community.

You could note that Mr. Bush had "referred" to himself before even starting his "salutations," but there's a point at which -- to borrow from Geoff Pullum -- counting beans on the droolers' terms is just playing along with droolerism. With that in mind, let's go to the scoreboard.

The Daily Caller is introducing a new concept, referring to yourself, which it doesn't do very well: 

Obama would refer to himself 43 more times throughout the speech — most of which he personally wrote, according to the LA Times — including one instance where he referred to himself in the third-person: “the president.”

Well, no. Here are the two cases in which Obama uses the noun "president" (aside from addressing Bush as "Mr. President"and  Joe Biden as "my friend the vice president"):

I know we’ll make because of what I’ve experienced in my own life; what I’ve seen of this country and its people, their goodness and decency, as president of the United States.

And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things, not even a president does.

Sorry. If a Daily Caller associate editor wrote "As a bullshitter, I know how to get a made-up article on the front page," we'd still only score that as one reference to himself. Returning to a simple FPS pronoun count, I get a total of 46 "I" or "me" variants* for Obama, or about 1.26% of his total word count: according to this handy table, a little below his rate in State of the Union addresses. Bush, with far fewer words and far fewer FPS pronouns (about 0.7%), also comes in below his State of the Union rate.

There is, of course, Context: the part of the news story that reminds you why you're reading it, rather than some other collection of random facts:

The president has faced scrutiny in the past for his habit of talking about himself during national speeches.

Technically not false, if you define "scrutiny" as "howler monkeys on PCP discovering a shiny object." I first ran across the "I" meme in January 2010, as it was sort of drifting between the right-wing commentariat and the news pages at Fox. Given the rich history involved, it's kind of sad that the best the Daily Caller can do is point to a Washington Examiner story:

President Obama announced new gun control orders Tuesday, but his speech hit heavily on his own views.
Strange! Do you figure it might be that he's, like, a political figure talking about policy or something?

A montage of the president's remarks put together by Grabien revealed that Obama referred to himself 76 times over his 33-minute remarks.

It's not the first time the president's personal references have attracted the attention of the media.

Following an October mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore., Obama mentioned himself 28 times in a 12-minute speech.

It's safe to guess that "name-dropping" is one thing the Kenyan usurper didn't do, in that pronouns pretty much by definition aren't names. But the accumulated evidence does make clear that the "I" meme has settled into a new form for its last campaign season. It'll be fun to start a new semester next January wondering how the drooler media will treat the pronoun frequencies of the incoming** president.

* Perhaps we were both counting in a hurry
** Have I told you I can see Canada from my office? 


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