Inaugural Address Analysis Shows Bush's Ranking Against Predecessors yourDictionary.com provides linguistic analysis in historical context
DANVILLE, CALIFORNIA. JANUARY 20, 2001. yourDictionary.com (YDC), the premier global language portal, today released its linguistic analysis of President George W. Bush's inaugural address. President Bush delivered the nation's 54th inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol Building earlier today.
"YDC's analysis is unique in that it places Bush's inaugural in the total context of the 53 inaugural addresses presented by his predecessors," according to Paul J.J. Payack, President and C.E.O. of yourDictionary.com. "We have attempted to provide a view of the address in a larger historical context, which can be used to spot trends that are all to easily overlooked in the political (and all too partisan) passions of the moment."
In its analysis, YDC researched the language content of all the 53 inaugural addresses since George Washington delivered the first in 1789. Some 125,881 words have been used all in all the preceding addresses, enough to fill a 200-page paperback book.
yourDictionary.com's analysis included patterns of word usage choices, the use of such grammatical constructions as passive voice, the length of words and sentences, the number of paragraphs, and other parameters of language to gauge the content. YDC also used the well-regarded Flesch-Kincaid Reading Scale.
"The actual word choices of each President are important," said Dr. Robert Beard, Chief Linguistics Officer of yourDictionary.com and former professor of linguistics at Bucknell University. "They provide a key indicator of the goals, tone and demeanor of the incoming administration (or how they will continue or change in the case of multiple administrations)".
YDC applied several metrics to analyze the address, including the Flesch-Kincaid Grade-level Diagnostic, that estimates reading grade-level appropriateness. (In its previous analysis of the Presidential Debates, YDC determined that the reading Grade Level for both Bush and former Vice President Gore ranged from the 6th to the 8th Grade level.)
Reading Grade Level yourDictionary.com's analysis showed that in terms of Grade Level Reading Appropriateness, Bush's scored 7.5, which ranked him closely with Eisenhower's 2nd (7.5), Nixon's first (7.6), Johnson (7.0), and Franklin D. Roosevelt's 4th (8.1). In contrast, Clinton's two addresses scored about the 9th grade level (9.4 and 8.8).
Before 1900, every inaugural address was ranked at the 12th grade level or higher, with the sole exception of Lincoln's 2nd at 11.5. The highest scores since 1900 were Theodore Roosevelt's 11.8 Richard Nixon's 2nd at 11.6, Hoover's 11.4, and Kennedy's 11.3. The lowest score was that of President's father, George H. W. Bush scored at 6.1.
Reading Ease In terms of readability, which estimates the percentage of the reading public that should easily understand the inaugural, yourDictionary.com's analysis showed that Bush's inaugural address scored 65%, which ranked him closely with Wilson's 2nd (62.5%), both Reagan's (62.4% and 62.1%), Wilson's 2nd (62.5%), Franklin D. Roosevelt's 3rd (61.6%), Eisenhower's 1st (61.3%), and Clinton's 1st (60.3%). In contrast, Bush the elder scored 77.3%. The only comparable ranking in the nineteenth century was Abraham Lincoln's 2nd (58.5%).
The highest score ever was Bush the Elder's 77.3%; the lowest was Washington's 1st at 19.9%.
Word Count In number of words employed, yourDictionary.com's analysis showed that Bush's inaugural address used 1570 words, which ranked him closely with Clinton's 1st (1598), Grover Cleveland's 1st (1682), Eisenhower's 2st (1659), Johnson's (1488), and Wilson's 1st (1682).
The shortest was Washington's 2nd with 135 words; the longest was William Henry Harrison's with 8428 words. (John Adams had a single sentence with 737 words.)
Prominent Word Choices in Bush's address The two most prominent words of all the previous 53 inaugural addresses (aside from function words like "a," "and," "the," etc.) is GOVERNMENT (550 times) and PEOPLE (531 times for an average of 10 times per speech). For this reason it is remarkable that President Bush uses GOVERNMENT only 4 times and uttered PEOPLE only once. He preferred COUNTRY (10), AMERICAN (10), STORY (9), CITIZENS (8), NATION (8), AMERICA(6). GOVERNMENT historically has occurred 4 times more often than even AMERICAN but the concept clearly plays a lesser role in his thinking.
Rather than bureaucratic terms, Bush's speech is notable for a new political vocabulary including words referring to civility and family. Bush referred positively to CIVILITY, which has occurred only twice before in all the previous 53 inaugural speeches, 4 times. CIVIL occurred twice more (50 times before, for an average .9 per address). COMPASSION had emerged only 5 times in previous inaugural addresses (.1%) but Bush almost doubled that figure himself, using it 3 times. All these terms are historically more befitting a discussion of family than the departments and bureaus of Washington.
In today's address, Bush chose to refer to the genders in family terminology using 'fathers and mothers' twice, 'child' four times, and 'family' three times. Previously, the word, 'woman', has been used only 22 times in all preceding addresses; in nineteen cases in the context of 'men and women'. 'Man,' in contrast is used 138 times, and 'men,' eighty-eight times.
Bush also had a notable number of religious references, using the word 'God' three times, 'faith' three times, and 'His' as a reference to the deity, four times.
Advent of the Mass Media yourDictionary found that the grade-level of the inaugural addresses began to drop with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson at the turn of the century. Teddy Roosevelt was known as a 'man of the people,' and Wilson's second address immediately after the end of World War I. Before this time, U.S. presidents spoke at a 12th-grade level or higher (the Flesch-Kincaid Diagnostic tests only to 12th-grade level). The lone exception was Lincoln's second address, delivered in the waning days of the Civil War.
This drop was not significant until the addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first president to fully leverage the mass medium of radio as an effective communications tool. The grade-level of FDR's speeches dropped with each address: from 10th, to 9th, and his final inaugural address registered at 8.1. His speeches became progressively shorter, too with word counts of 1880, 1808, 1338, and finally 557.
The grade-level of political speeches began to drop with the advent of radio and was accelerated with the introduction of television and other mass media. The apparent intent of this "dumbing-down" of political discourse was to make oneself understood by the broadest segment of the electorate. American voters are apparently divided on whether they want their presidents to be presidential, statesman-like, or an 'average guy' who can empathize with and relate to their specific situations.
No presidential inaugural address has reached a 12th-grade level since Woodrow Wilson's in 1913. And Harry Truman's address scored higher than all the addresses of FDR, his immediate predecessor. John F. Kennedy's address reached the 11.3-grade level and Richard Nixon's second inaugural scored 11.6. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the level has settled between the 8th and 9th grade. Both of Reagan's addresses ranked at a low 9th-grade level (9.0 and 9.1) and Clinton's ranked 9.4 and 8.8.
There is also a close parallel between the readability and the length of words in the inaugural addresses. Ignoring small grammatical functor words like "is," "a," "he," etc., the average length of George Washington's words was 6.6 letters and the comprehensibility of his speech was the lowest in history. The only presidents who used longer words were Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor whose words averaged 6.7 letters. Apparently, 50-cent words, as H. L. Mencken was wont to call them, don't play well on Main Street.
Most and Least Popular Words By far the two most popular words in the inaugural addresses are GOVERNMENT (550 times) and PEOPLE (531 times), used more frequently than common function words like UPON (366 times), WHO (333 times), MAY (327 times), MUST (326 times), SHOULD (322 times). Other popular terms (125 uses or more) include: STATES, WORLD, COUNTRY, EVERY, NATION, OTHER, PEACE, PUBLIC, NEW, POWER, CONSTITUTION, UNITED, TIME, NATIONS, UNION, FREE, WAR.
There are 3940 words that have appeared only once in inaugural addresses, such as MOOMAW, FLYLEAF, MAKETH, OSTRICHES, HABEAS CORPUS, CINCINNATI, IOWA, RIO DE JANEIRO, RADICAL, SCIPIOS, SCYTHIA, WHOMSOEVER.
There appear to be some surprises here, including LAWYER, LEGISLATE, LEGISLATORS, SENATORS (SENATOR occurs 9 times), CONGRESSMAN has been uttered twice.
Other lexical rarities of note include (one mention each): POETRY, BONDAGE, DEMAGOGUE, ECONOMICS, FIXED-INCOME, and MICROCHIP.
One added note: PROSPERITY has been uttered 66 times but RECESSION never.
The Shortest Inauguration Speech in U.S. History (George Washington 1793):
I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.
Some Firsts And Onlies
Figure 1, below, shows the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of inaugural addresses as compiled by yourDictionary.com.
Figure 2, below, shows various metrics used in the analysis of Presidential inaugural addresses as compiled by yourDictionary.com.