Friday, January 20, 2017

Pronouns: The farewell tour

Shed a tear in passing for the specious pronoun count as an index of thinly veiled right-wing racism presidential narcissism. We may never see its like again -- though with a few hours left in the regular season, you don't want to rule anything out.

The pronoun meme deserves a spot in the Fake News Hall of Fame for its sheer persistence. (The flying verb in Drudge's play from last Wednesday  makes clear that this isn't a story that needs a lot of explanation.) It relies on three observations:
1) The Kenyan usurper uses first-person pronouns! Which most of us -- oops -- do pretty often.
2) The Kenyan usurper uses them N or NN or NNN times! Whether that's a proportion or a raw number, whether it's per minute or per word, or whether it's more or less than any of his predecessors, doesn't signify. GAAAAAAH!
3) Therefore narcissism! Which, sort of like the perpetual bedwetting over the Kenyan threat to "fundamentally transform" America, always ends up leading back to someone like Reagan, who used first-person pronouns with a pretty human regularity and closed out his tenure by congratulating himself on fundamentally transforming a lot more than that:

And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.

Imagine what Fox News might have thought. Wait, don't.

Anyway, there's an enduring archive of pronoun madness over at Language Log. That doesn't quite get all the details, such as what we learn from how the meme spreads. Drudge's Wednesday play is from the Daily Caller, which seems to have a new aura owing to Tucker Carlson's ascent at Fox but is otherwise its same old droolery self:

President Obama referred to himself 75 times in his farewell address Tuesday night, according to a review of his prepared remarks by The Daily Caller.
Obama heavily promoted the speech, penning a blog post about it and appearing in a promotional video in the days leading up to the address. (RELATED: Obama Mentions Himself 45 Times During Memorial Speech For Dallas Officers)

Obama said “I” 33 times during the speech, “my” 20 times, “me” 10 times, and “I’m” or “I’ve” 12 times.

The president made a habit of focusing large chunks of his speeches on himself during his eight years in office.

Last July, for example, he mentioned himself 45 times over the course of a speech given at a speech for the slain Dallas police officers.

In his blog post promoting the speech, Obama encouraged Americans to tune in “because, for me, it’s always been about you.”

This flavor of fake news comes with a spoonful of actual TRVTH: Generally, if you count the pronouns as specified, it's fairly close to the actual amount. Why the proportion of FPS pronouns in presidential speech might be interesting, given what's known about how humans talk, isn't specified -- nor is how we should take into account the many presidents whose FPS ratio was higher than the usurper's. It's simply received wisdom -- for the dwindling hours until the Orange Peril upends the rulebook, not that Drudge is going to take notice -- that FPS frequency is a valid and reliable indicator of presidential ... oh, what's that term? Narcissism!

There's no empirical or theoretical reason to believe that, of course, which suggests that we'll soon be able to say for sure whether the pronoun meme and its practitioners -- from Drudge and Fox and the Daily Caller to George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer -- are fundamentally, you know, motivated by (ahem) skin color and nothing else. Stay tuned, pronoun fans!

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