eternally stressed semanticist (cqs) wrote,
eternally stressed semanticist

Political language

I've been posting a lot (too much?) on politics elseblog, but I want to point out a few quick things about some responses to the Vice-Presidential Debates.

First, Bob Herbert at the New York Times writes:

For Ms. Palin, such things as context, syntax and the proximity of answers to questions have no meaning.
Let's be clear: Herbert observes one instance of Palin taking a (Reagan) quote out of context. He makes no points whatsoever about syntax; apparently on that point he cites Palin as saying:
Say it ain't so, Joe! There you go pointing backwards again ... Now, doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?
That's how it appears in the official transcript—though oddly, he cut out one of the stranger sentences,"You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration." Preferenced? Let me, however, repunctuate what she said and clean up a word or two (this is an hour and nine minutes in; I'm using the NYT video, since it's synched to the transcript):

Say it ain't so, Joe: there you go again pointing backwards again. You prefaced your whole comment with "the Bush administration". Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I'm glad that you did. I know that education, you are passionate about; and with your wife being a teacher for 30 years (and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?)
There might be a small disfluency at "we have to plan to do", as if she started to say "what we have [to do for them]" and corrected herself to "to plan to do for them". "Education, you are passionate about" is a fairly unremarkable case of topicalization, moving an object (here, of a preposition) to the start of the sentence; there's a clear pause (well, an "and", pronounced "n", but that's pretty much a verbal semicolon), and then she comments on Biden's wife being a teacher. ("Her reward is in Heaven" struck me as odd at the time, but of course, it's Matthew 5:12, and seems to me like nothing more than an acknowledgement that teaching doesn't have much of a monetary reward. Incidentally, it appears that "a teacher's reward is in heaven" is specifically common as a saying in Nigeria and Ghana.)

Herbert also says that "Ms. Palin's words don't mean anything. She's all punctuation"; it's a cute zinger, but I'm not sure what it means, really. And his final linguistic point, after a few paragraphs about Gen. David McKiernan, is that "During the debate she twice referred to General McKiernan as 'McClellan.' Neither Ms. Ifill nor Senator Biden corrected her." But honestly, getting a name wrong is a simple slip of the tongue, not really any worse than Obama calling Biden "the next president" or Biden calling his running mate "Barack America". Also: if neither Biden nor Ifill corrected her, doesn't that suggest that they, too, thought the general's name was McClellan? (Probably not; I'm just trying to follow Herbert's logic.)

The bottom line is this: as LL has pointed out about Bushisms, repeatedly, an occasional grammatical slip or incorrect word is inevitable from all but the most talented of public speakers (and perhaps even them). And there are plenty of other reasons to dislike Sarah Palin (or any other candidate of your choice); let's focus on the content of what she says, rather than denying that any content exists.

Second, in the interest of equal time: John J. Miller at the National Review complaining about Biden saying "different than" instead of "dfferent from" is also (a) needless and (b) wrong.

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