July 15, 2017

The most interesting observation in "Talking Donald Trump: A Sociolinguistic Study of Style, Metadiscourse, and Political Identity."

He doesn't tend to begin sentences with "well." (WaPo link.)
Trump started his sentences with “well” less frequently than other Republican contenders during the 2016 GOP primary debates, [said Jennifer Sclafani, an associate teaching professor in Georgetown University’s Department of Linguistics]....

“When we hear ‘well’ coming from other candidates, we’re more likely to perceive their responses as being dodgy,” she said. “And when we hear no ‘well’ from Donald Trump, we don’t notice that there is no ‘well’ there, but by contrast he comes off as sounding more straightforward and more direct.”

81 comments:

Darrell said...

Well, how do you like that?

traditionalguy said...

Well is a mighty deep subject.

tcrosse said...

Ding dong dell, pussy's down the well

rhhardin said...

Leftists use "we" a lot.

rhhardin said...

"Yes, no,.." is the new beginning, if Armstrong and Getty are onto something.

Bob Boyd said...

And he didn't cackle or screech.

Ralph L said...

"Well" can be like Helmut Schmidt's cigarettes--a delaying tactic to get one's words in order.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Which is worse to begin a sentence, "Well" or "So?"

Comanche Voter said...

Ah geez! "Well" is my favorite response when I hear something disappointing from an otherwise normally intelligent person. It's better to use that single word than to tell the speaker he or she is full of more nonsense than the Christmas Goose.

It's not that I am going to say something dodgy--because beyond that single word I'm not going to say anything at all. Now if I were to refer to my Southern roots, I might say, "You're dumber than a box of rocks, bless your heart". But "well" will do.

tcrosse said...

Back in the day they used to write learned articles parsing the diction of LBJ, another guy who talked funny.

The Godfather said...

For sounding dodgy, I wonder how "well" stacks up against "that's a great question", "I'm glad you asked that", "this is what the American people deserve to know", and the like.

traditionalguy said...

It is well with his soul. So he doesn't need to act like your fake listening psychologist, but he has something that he wants to say about a broken America becoming great again. And he promises you that he will win that war if you will join him in the fight.

n.n said...

Trump is an executive, not a lawyer. This is a clear departure from the status quo. He is not predisposed to hemming, hawing, and hedging his speech. This is another aspect of his personality that is appealing to the bulk of the population, to the working class, to the professional class, to mothers and fathers, etc.

madAsHell said...

I'm loving every minute of this. Trump is a reckoning force.

Rob Parrish said...

I wish Trump would start his paragraphs with "So". Then maybe all the pretentious types on NPR would stop doing it.

Ann Althouse said...

Didn't Reagan begin with "well" more than most people?

Trump is unusually good at speaking without extra words. He makes strong, clear statements. It can be confusing or weird because he doesn't add a lot of qualifications and weaseling, but people who like him feel they know what he means and give a sympathetic interpretation to everything. People who don't like him think the worst. The hard question is why some people have positive feelings toward him and some are on the other side. How does that work? I observe my own feelings and am mystified. I find myself siding with him and rooting for him, even when I don't like him or agree with what he's saying. I admit that, but few others do. I wonder what the hell is going on. Scott Adams would say it's something like hypnosis. It's the craziest political phenomenon I've ever seen. Not saying "well" is the least of it!

Brookzene said...

For sounding dodgy, I wonder how "well" stacks up against "that's a great question", "I'm glad you asked that", "this is what the American people deserve to know", and the like.

Well. That's a great point. So it won't be long however before Trump won't be taking any questions imo. The press can go screw themselves.

Snark said...

There is no mystery to why some find themselves drawn to Trump but can't explain it or quite put their finger on it. You can find countless anecdotal accounts of people who eventually realized they were tangled up with psychopaths express that feeling in one form or another.

Bob Ellison said...

"Well" is OK as a sentence starter. It says "I'm trying to be thoughtful, and I'm processing your question or statement."

"So" is an abomination as a sentence starter. It says "I don't know how to persuade or inform." Also very California. Started around 2000. Very NPR. Turn on NPR for a half hour or so in the middle of the day. Those people, professional talkers, start about 50% of sentences with "so". The interviewer, maybe only 25%; the interviewee, about 75%.

EDH said...

I was just looking at Reagan who, I think, did often used "well" as a polite way of saying "despite what you claim."

In fact, people put "well" in front of his famous quote... "There you go again."

One example of "going to the 'well' too many times."

Bob Ellison said...

NPRQ: Well, white people have always held the power in Texas. Why do you think that is?

NPRA: So, white people basically invaded Texas a couple of hundred years ago, and they got the power over the land, and they still hold it.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me suggest that "well" may be a filler for some of them, letting them start responding before they knew exactly what they were going to say. Like other filler, you can train to eliminate it from your speech. My partner commented the other day that I use filler a lot more than when we first got together - which makes sense since I was in Toastmasters at the time, which tries to train you out of using filler. Trump, with his years on TV, probably worked hard to eliminate obvious filler in his speech. However, what that may mean is that he utilizes other techniques to cover when he is trying to get his taught together. Someone has suggested that he repeats lines in such a situation, or throws in some other cases, throws in his campaign lines. Sure, he could, and probably is, repeating lines for emphasis. But the filler theory feels decent to me too.

Birkel said...

Althouse,

I don't like Donald Trump, either. I've never met the man. It would be hard to like somebody I've never met and much easier to dislike them from afar. But then I'm not prone to pre-missing a person who won't leave the stage, either. So there's that.

I wonder what it is that gets people personally invested in strangers. You can see Snark is impossibly driven by his investment in one interpretation of Trump. HWMNBN, so called fopdoodle, is similarly invested. The snark about Snark is that Trump is living rent free in his brain. It is a one-way relationship.

As for tics in speech, well beat um but quite a lot. In both cases we imagine the person is gathering their thoughts. Long experience has told any reasonably intelligent person to hold onto their wallet when a politician has to gather thoughts. Trump doesn't need to gather thoughts? It's either because of the worst possible reason imaginable that defies Occam or it's relatively benign.

Maybe Trump doesn't feel a need to cover his views in lies and deceits because he likes the views he gets to express publicly.

Bob Ellison said...

In France, they say eh bien. In Germany, they say gut or doch (the latter of which is untranslatable).

Once written, twice... said...

Trump has accomplished something Democrats never could; he has made Ronald Reagan disappear from our politics. Over the past twenty-eight years, every Republican candidate for president—except Donald Trump—has claimed the legacy of Reagan. George Bush defined his presidency as furthering the "Reagan Revolution."

Trump never mentions Reagan. In fact, Trump never mentions conservativism.

Until Ann mention Reagan in this thread, I have not heard his name invoked in a really long time. What does it mean for the Republican Party, and conservatism in general, that Trumpism has replaced Reaganism?

tcrosse said...

"So" is an abomination as a sentence starter.

So what ?

rcocean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EDH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

The hard question is why some people have positive feelings toward him and some are on the other side. How does that work?"

Well, Trump does use qualifiers, but they are either contextual or separated from his "strong" statements.

What Liberals and MSM often do is simply take his words out of context or drop the qualifiers.

For example, they decided he claimed to taping Comey and then decided he was "backing off" from his earlier statement when he finally said he had no "tapes". But of course, he NEVER said he had tapes. That was the MSM imagining it, because they wanted to.

rcocean said...

9/10 someone is misstating their opponents words, when they start out with "So, you're saying...."

Leftists love to do this, because it means they don't have to support their lame arguments or make an honest intellectual defense of their support for things like open borders, illegal immigration, special privileges for minorities, etc.

FullMoon said...

So, what are you doing today?

Well, I don't know yet.

EDH said...

So can be a so-so substitute for "therefore" if you just laid out a case in your prior sentence(s).

I can see the critique of starting your remarks with so, unless you're continuing the prior speaker's line of logic: "So, you're telling me the moon is made of green cheese?"

The gray area is the the lazy observational comedian.

"So, what about Peter Gabriel? He waits until his 5th album to give one a title, starting with... So.

Thank you, I'm here all week."

St. George said...

"Want to know which CEOs will run their company into the ground? Count how many times these the word "I" in their annual letter to shareholders. This is what financial analyst Laura Rittenhouse discovers....Me, me, me means death, death, death for corporations." (From 'Barking Up the Wrong Tree' by Eric Barker)

"Realizing she had to quantify candor in order to convince CEOs of its value, Rittenhouse set about developing a system of “candor analytics.” Adapting techniques used by forensic investigators and SEC analysts to determine whether someone is telling the truth, the system awards points for words, phrases, and linguistic patterns that indicate transparency. The system also deducts points for FOG, or “fact-deficient, obfuscating generalities”––clichés, jargon, incomplete explanations, euphemisms, platitudes, and contradictory statements. By 2000, Rittenhouse had compiled a 100-company list representing a range of industries and began offering the Rittenhouse Rankings, which grades CEO shareholder letters, teleconference scripts, and other forms of corporate communications.

FOG, Rittenhouse points out, can be either toxic or benign. Toxic FOG is used deliberately to disguise performance, strategy, or intent, with the lack of clarity serving to obscure results. Benign FOG results when lazy thinking shades into lazy speech. Rittenhouse notes an example of the latter that emerges with almost hilarious frequency in CEO shareholder letters of recent vintage: the constant recourse to a “climate of uncertainty” as an all-purpose explanation for timid responses, misguided decisions, or poor performance."

I wonder where Trump would score.

Snark said...

"Really, this is more about you and those who share this irrational reaction. Are you not acknowledging here that you are allowing yourself to be manipulated by a charismatic strongman leader?"

If America emerges from this era relatively intact as a democracy it will be solely because events - both those that occurred and those that didn't - permitted that. It will be a reprieve more to do with a capricious, cosmic luck than it will have had anything to do with individual responses. You see so clearly right in front of your face in real time how democracies must have stumbled in the past as individuals behave like proverbial frogs in the pot.

Ralph L said...

George Bush defined his presidency as furthering the "Reagan Revolution."
In the words of Elvis, "Well, that was just a lie."

St. George said...

In a mesmerizing video, Grabien highlights all the times Obama referenced himself in his speech at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday. The total tally: a stunning 119 times.

As Grabien chronicled, those 119 self-references surpass the 76 times he referenced himself in his 33-minute gun control speech on Jan 5, 2016, the 28 times he brought himself up in a 12-minute speech following a mass shooting Oct 1, 2015, and just barely edges the incredible 118 times he talked about ol' Barry in a 33-minute speech in India on Jan. 27, 2015. Narcissism or just an acknowledgment that the only positive thing he's ever really had is his personal likability? Why not both?

http://www.dailywire.com/news/7887/so-how-many-times-did-obama-refer-himself-speech-james-barrett

Fernandinande said...

"When we hear ‘well’ coming from other candidates, we’re more likely to perceive their responses as being dodgy,”

Since the word "well" is a "discourse marker", here she almost says exactly the opposite:

++
Trump often introduces topics abruptly with non-substantive words (which linguists call “discourse markers”) like “so,” “you know,” or “anyway.” These are words that everyone uses in everyday conversation, and while they have little referential value on their own, linguists have shown that they play an important role in the organization of talk. In fact, without them, conversation sounds stilted and unnatural.
++

Danno said...

Blogger rhhardin said...Leftists use "we" a lot.

Could that be the Imperial We?

Unknown said...

I think this is something. I've never liked the use of well at the beginning of a sentence, and hadn't noticed Mr Trump's avoidance of this. Neither does he interject the ubiquitous "look" into his speech.

BDNYC said...

I didn't support Trump's candidacy, and I still think it's a shame he was elected, but the media and the Democrats fight the stupidest battles with him. Half the electorate voted for the man, so the media and the Democrats should show some respect, but since November 2016 it's been a constant drumbeat of "Russia, Logan Act, treason, Nazi, impeach, alt-right, misogyny."

I see the dishonest and smugness from the other side and I naturally feel somensympathy for Trump and his supporters, most of whom are good and decent people. In fact, it is incredible how much of the anti-Trump vitriol is directed at his supporters, which I think is unprecedented in America post-Civil War.

Also, I've come to realize that Trump isn't as bad as I had feared during the primaries. So while I would rather have someone else as president, the dynamics at play are pushing me to defend him, and in all likelihood I will vote for him in 2020, which is a weird feeling for me. I'm a pro-free trade, socially moderate-to-liberal, pro-choice libertarian. I like his policies on regulations and taxes, hate his policies on trade and immigration, uneasy with his militarism, love his defiance of the PC culture. I think there are many squishes out there like me who are being pushed into his camp by the media and the Democrats.

Michael K said...

" love his defiance of the PC culture."

That is what attracted me. I am retired, comfortable and have children on both sides.

He has attracted the perfect enemies.

Snark said...

"I wonder what it is that gets people personally invested in strangers. You can see Snark is impossibly driven by his investment in one interpretation of Trump. HWMNBN, so called fopdoodle, is similarly invested. The snark about Snark is that Trump is living rent free in his brain. It is a one-way relationship."

LOL. May I offer you some self-awareness with that irony?

Michael K said...

"people who eventually realized they were tangled up with psychopaths express that feeling in one form or another."

They call them Hillary voters.

EDH said...

Unknown said...
Neither does he interject the ubiquitous "look" into his speech.

I've always argued Fred Barnes was the Patient Zero of the modern day "Look" pandemic since the 1980s. (Either him or Look magazine.)

But now I'm thinking it might trace back to "Looky here."

According to the RHD, 'looky' (also 'lookee') is an interjection attested from 1875–80 which is an alternative form of the imperative look ye! Similarly, the linguist Andrew L. Sihler indicates that ye, the now-archaic subjective form of the English 2nd pers. plural pronoun, “is fossilized in looky (here) …”.

None of the various attested forms appear in the OED, in Victor & Dalzell’s Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, nor in Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

EDH said...

Yikes!

KRISTOL: You guys, you just got to cover either campaign or something, I guess that’s how it worked.

BARNES: Well, look, by 1980, I was with The Baltimore Sun, and we had two political reporters, and we had two campaigns and we shared them.... Well, the Nashua debate, you know, this was the – I love tricks in politics that happen and the ones that aren’t illegal. And –

KRISTOL: Even some of the illegal ones –

BARNES: Well, yeah. So George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush had won in Iowa. Reagan had – he wasn’t saying much...

Paddy O said...

Tradguy likes to compare Trump to Napoleon. This post makes me think of Trump as being more like Lord Nelson. "Never mind the maneuvers, just go straight at them."

Pinandpuller said...

Well, I am Groot.

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Snark said...

Okay. I whatsapped Dr. Agbazara and asked him to cast a spell on a few Trump voters. Also a grammar and a math. Let's see what happens!

FullMoon said...

In fact, it is incredible how much of the anti-Trump vitriol is directed at his supporters, which I think is unprecedented in America post-Civil War.


Divisiveness encouraged during Obama's reign, and continued through Clinton's campaign. In my opinion, one of mail reasons people voted against Hillary.

FullMoon said...


Blogger Snark said...

Okay. I whatsapped Dr. Agbazara and asked him to cast a spell on a few Trump voters. Also a grammar and a math. Let's see what happens!

7/15/17, 12:35 PM


I am feeling off balance, assumed it was alcohol related, ya bastard!
Contacting the Doc to do a double reverse whammy on you. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery this week end.

Clark said...

Speaking of beginning sentences with . . . . Any time anyone says "I’m from United States" you can be sure that they are not.

ddh said...

So?

Snark said...

"I am feeling off balance, assumed it was alcohol related, ya bastard!
Contacting the Doc to do a double reverse whammy on you. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery this week end."

Oh fine. Fair enough. Mention my name and use the code shitfaced at checkout for 15 bucks off.

FullMoon said...

Oh fine. Fair enough. Mention my name and use the code shitfaced at checkout for 15 bucks off.
7/15/17, 12:57 PM

Done.
Are you "feeling the Bern" again?

grackle said...

The hard question is why some people have positive feelings toward him and some are on the other side. How does that work?

I’ll tell you when Trump got me. It was when he kicked Jorge Ramos out of his presser after Ramos decided to take over Trump’s presser, as Ramos was accustomed to do with ordinary politicians.

Until then I was leaning toward Cruz. But when I saw just this one thing, Trump unceremoniously ejecting an asshole who wanted to pontificate on Trump’s time, I realized I had found my candidate. And that candidate seldom disappoints me.

Could it be Professor Althouse, that you are more fair-minded than most academics? Could it be that you tire of the mosaic of Lefty false assumptions and double standards that permeate our MSM? Could it be that you realize that political correctness kills effective communication and handicaps political judgement?

Mr. Majestyk said...

I am surprised no one has mentioned the horror of starting (not to mention contaminating) a sentence with "Like," as in, "Like, I just saw a fox outside my, like, window."

buwaya said...

While in Manila recently I did the usual (what, you don't?) and stopped by the booths of the witches by Quiapo church.

I purchased, as is my custom, several handfuls of magic amulets, (anting anting) which is my usual travellers gift (pasalubong) from the old country. I always get the ones guaranteed as protection from curses or hexes (contra malas) as everyone needs them, and there is no falsifiable promise in the things besides.

Expert advice - do NOT get the ones that guarantee prosperity. These can lead to awkward situations for the giver.

If you are unable to obtain a properly certified amulet from your local shaman, a pro tip - the usual Catholic Saint Benedict medal will do, but you should get it blessed by a priest, and there is an actual rite for this in the Roman Ritual, so don't just assume.

Any of these should work just fine to deal with cases of online imprecations.

Drago said...

Snark: "LOL. May I offer you some self-awareness with that irony?"

I doubt you have any to spare.

Ralph L said...

This post makes me think of Trump as being more like Lord Nelson.
Or Admiral Farragut: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead."

I'm like BDNYC. Thought the only choice worse than Trump was Hillary, but I'm pleasantly surprised, and he's offending all the right people. Some DC Republicans are going to find themselves in the cold for NeverTrumping.

tcrosse said...

I am surprised no one has mentioned the horror of starting (not to mention contaminating) a sentence with "Like," as in, "Like, I just saw a fox outside my, like, window."

So, I'm like, "Stop doing that".

buwaya said...

I am however testing a special amulet that is supposed to protect premises from intruders and thieves. A bloody big thing it is too, as amulets go, being as it is supposed to be of institutional size.

I have hung it in our server room, just in case, to cover all the bases in our IT security plan, which is otherwise very lacking in the supernatural dimensions. Lets see how it goes.

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
virgil xenophon said...

Why are you drawn to Trump, Ann? (Lets test your history here :) ) "In your heart you know he's right.."

Sebastian said...

@rh: ""Yes, no,.." is the new beginning." Sic et non: new??

rehajm said...

President Reagan press conference:

-mr president, where dies the white house tap water come from?

-uh, well...

-how is mrs reagan?

-well...

-mr president, what's the world's largest mammal?

-uh, well...





Sebastian said...

Anyway, so I'm pretty close to Althouse: can't listen to the guy more than a minute or two, but root for him--more as the left goes crazy and Trump governs more conservatively than I thought.

@Once: "he has made Ronald Reagan disappear from our politics." Not quite. Since he is now a dead former GOP president, he can be safely invoked by liberals to ridicule the current one. Within the last week, Galston had a Reagan-was-great, Trump-is-dumb piece in the WSJ.

Jim at said...

"The press can go screw themselves." - Brookzene

The smartest thing you've ever written. By far.

Dude1394 said...

And he IS more straightforward and direct. Much more and many notice.

And I must add...very smart.

" Blogger Jim at said...

"The press can go screw themselves." - Brookzene

The smartest thing you've ever written. By far.

7/15/17, 2:04 PM"

rcocean said...

Probably the most annoying opinion "filler" ever, was Newt Gingrich's constant:

"The fact of the matter is,"

After which, he would give his opinion.

Plus, anyone who starts with "The truth of the matter is," is almost always lying.

Mark Daniels said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Daniels said...

There's a clear downside to Trump's failure to use the word "well" or other tools to consider his answers before speaking.

Like here.

iowan2 said...

The entire establishment just "knew" that Obama was so smart and his diction was so white, that he by default was a great communicator. I give full credit to Insty, by pointing out that Obama is credentialed, and President Trump is accomplished.

President Trump has suffered enough set backs and errors by poor communication that President Trump has learned from is mistakes and from those mistakes has honed his skills in connecting with people. Compare Obama, and President Trump from an experience level, identify Obama's experience in honing his communication skill...nothing. Previous to being installed by the media as President, Obama has never been forced to communicate, his ideas, and motivate people. Never.

Unknown said...

"There is no mystery to why some find themselves drawn to Trump but can't explain it or quite put their finger on it. You can find countless anecdotal accounts of people who eventually realized they were tangled up with psychopaths express that feeling in one form or another."

Precisely

"Really, this is more about you and those who share this irrational reaction. Are you not acknowledging here that you are allowing yourself to be manipulated by a charismatic strongman leader?"

Exactly right.

What makes it even weirder is that there isn't a total lack of self awareness, yet allowing oneself to be bamboozled anyway. Self destructive tendencies? What is it about Trump that would bring out this sort of emotion?



Ralph L said...

"Make no mistake" and "going forward" are overused and really annoying to me.

Michael K said...

"What is it about Trump that would bring out this sort of emotion? "

I dunno. Maybe honesty ? Telling the truth with the bark on ?

Not being skilled enough at lying to pass the NY Times test ?

I have a hard time listening to Trump but his exaggerations and bluster are probably cultural and part of the New York City experience.,

What counts is what he does and so far I have been more than pleased.

I doubt Romney, who I thought was the last chance to save the country from collapse, could handle the venom and irrational hatred that Trump has sloughed off.

It is war with words so far. Be careful what you wish for lefties.

Thank about the Serbians who beat to death that U of Arizona graduate who was talking to a white girl in a bar on a Greek Island.

The lefty snowflakes should meet some angry Serbians if they want "triggering."

Ray said...

Based on the comments, I wonder if Trump is going to get a higher percentage of the vote in 2020, than he did for 2016.

Riff on spells was A+ and super funny.

Hagar said...

Trump's manner of speaking is peculiar to him, but I very much like his governing to date and, after all, govern is what he was elected to do.

His speech may also be deliberately mystifying, like Eisenhower's when Ike did not wish to give "them" any clear targets to shoot at, though obviously Eisenhower did not get to be Eisenhower by issuing orders his subordinates could not understand.

Trump is very much doing rather than just talking about doing.
It is going to be a dirty fight and a long fight with wins and losses and half loaves - it isn't about just this news cycle.

Hagar said...

I think I have mentioned before that Trump's speech and tweets seem to serve as his "bimbo eruptions" as well - gives them shiny squirrels to chase after, while he goes about his business.

Snark said...

"I doubt you have any to spare."

Do so. I also have shelf-awareness and elf-awareness, so I'm a complete package really.

Valentine Smith said...

Because he is Blanche, he is.