I didn't get much out of President Barack Obama's Oval Office speech on Tuesday night, but I wasn't left with the impression that the president needed to speak to us as if we are a nation of kindergartners.
Nevertheless, CNN has talked to a "language analyst" who gets paid to "[analyze and catalogue] trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture," and they report that Obama was too "professorial," and now America is at grave risk of not passing its midterm exams on the oil spill.
"Language analyst," Paul J.J. Payack, says that the speech was "written to a 9.8 grade level." You know, the level that is three years of matriculation away from encountering a "professor" for the first time?
Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence "added some difficulty for his target audience," Payack said.
He singled out this sentence from Obama as unfortunate: "That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation's best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge -- a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation's secretary of energy."
Yes, that crystal clear sentence is so terribly unfortunate! To "connect" with Americans, Obama should have definitely said: "OIL GO BOOM! ME NEED HELP FROM BIG BRAINS. I CALL THE CHU-MAN ON THE RINGY PHONE."
According to Payack, it's really, really important to speak in monosyllables and the metaphors of a simpleton. And he lives by his code, referring to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina as "Katrina land," which I'm sure they totally appreciate. And presidents should definitely restrict their vocabulary to words that barely qualify as utterances.
At a micro level, the average word in the speech contained 4.5 letters, a bit longer than is typical for the former constitutional law professor, Payack said.
Apparently, constitutional law is taught with rebuses and frenzied pantomime.
UPDATE: Salon's Alex Pareene adds something important to this discussion: Paul J.J. Payack is not a language expert. He's just a attention-starved fraud that CNN frequently invites to participate in the overall bamboozlement of its readers and viewers.
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