Word counts

Over on Language Log, Mark Liberman has repeatedly scathed writers who criticize public figures over their word use, especially 1st person singular pronouns, which they take to be a sign of self-involvement or grandiosity. Mark notes, again and again, that these writers never do actual counts, but instead report their impressions — but Mark does the stats, and again and again finds the impressions flat wrong. Now a report in which someone actually cites the counts.

Via Gregory Ward, this Salon piece of the 24th by Katie McDonough, “President Obama has used the word “gay” in official remarks 272 times since taking office: His predecessor George W. Bush said “gay” twice, once in a speech denouncing marriage equality”.

The piece begins:

The Human Rights Campaign did an analysis of the speeches and statements from recent presidents and found that President Obama has used the word “gay” 272 since taking office, far more than any of his predecessors. For context, George W. Bush used the word twice, and once was in a speech denouncing marriage equality. (Compassionate conservative.) Bill Clinton came in at 216, with 80 of the utterances occurring during speeches addressing the murder of Matthew Shepard and hate-crime legislation; George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan never said “gay” once in public remarks.

As the Associated Press notes, Obama also has used “lesbian,” ”gay,” ”bisexual” or “transgender” a total of 421 times in public addresses over the last five years, which HRC says has played a role in shaping the public’s evolving views on LGBTQ equality.

“Words matter an enormous amount, and when President Obama uses his platform to declare that LGBT people are just as American as anyone else, it has a huge and historic effect,” Chad Griffin, the organization’s president, said in a statement on the report. “Evidence suggests that when people know us, they don’t want to discriminate against us.”

Words matter.

One Response to “Word counts”

  1. Walt slocombe Says:

    Context matters. In some respects, Obama’s big step came in his 2004 convention speech — something to the effect that “we have gay friends in red states.” which I think of as significant because it carried the message that gays are part of ‘normal’ society and community, not some totally outside group.

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