Speech! Speech!

Friday, August 31, 2012

A word cloud of Rep. Paul Ryan's convention speech. (

John McWhorter, linguist, New Republic contributing editor and the author of What Language Is (And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be), talks about the Republicans' rhetorical choices.


John McWhorter

Comments [28]

Gil C from New York, New York

OOPS! It's embarrassing to call attention to a spoken grammar error having just committed one yourself. John McWhorter was just coming off a "than me" bloop when he pointed out Romney's "Ann and me" faux pas. What encouraged me,though,was calling attention to it at all. The English teacher in me thought we had let that stuff go with the passing of Bill Safire. But no? I was prepare to stop fighting to reinstate such arcane guidelines as:

1. Finish that thought:"He has more money than I"(have), avoiding "than me" (have). It's a matter of adding the second verb (at least in your head).
2. Make it about YOU: Silently, THINK everyone in the sentence but yourself out of it, and you will say, "I believe America's greatness lies ahead," avoiding, "Ann and me believe...". Getting those who put themselves first in this structure, as in, "Me and Ann" is, I assume, more a matter of etiquette not grammar.
3. Harder, would be objects of prepositions as they are, well, objects. Thus, while "Between you and I" may sound okay to today's ear, it is not accurate by the old standard. Students would need to MEMORIZE the prepositions AND the object rule to come up with "Between you and me....", and that would be a lot of work, don't you agree?
OR, should I become excited that the old standard might still be upheld (or even held up!). Ah, "words, words, words."

Sep. 01 2012 08:19 AM

John, Is it "Smarter than me" or smarter than I?

Aug. 31 2012 11:02 PM
The real Truth from Becky

Spot on Sheldon - and TB if you are going to copy my name and words you need to be spot on as well...correct spelling is savvy!

Aug. 31 2012 11:34 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

@Truth and beauty: "It is a direct object, not a subject"..... What is "it"?

You have this obsession with grammar pedantry - yet you just wrote a sentence without a subject. Apparently, your public school education wasn't that perfect.

Aug. 31 2012 11:16 AM
Reuven Wiener from Washington Heights

I heard the religion speech in Romney's speech -- no doubt thought important by his advisors to convince voters that Mormons are Christians too. I haven't done a complete read, but I noticed the following in the official text: faith (6 times -- including one "good faith"), Church (3 times), God (only twice in the official text -- but one Creator (and one job creator) and three Gods "ad-libbed" at the close). Also possible Christian code language, such as the use of "love" 8 times (including one God's love), especially "gift of unconditional love." Google these as keywords and you will see the special link to Christianity. I'm aware that God appear in Obama's speech as well - who still has to convince some that he's a good Christian too, and not a Muslim.

Aug. 31 2012 11:07 AM
Harry from In NJ today....

McWhorter is a typical liberal "intellectual" fraud; He made the same mistake I/me in reverse that he said he wouldn't expect Romney to make. McWhorter described himself as an "educated American". Ipse dixit. LOL!

Aug. 31 2012 11:06 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Many people make that mistake: so-and-so and "I" rather than "me" because they don't learn grammar in school. It is a direct object, not a subject. Nevertheless, I'm no more surprised that Romney read it off the teleprompter than if he'd said it himself. I don't think that Romney's speechwriters are any more grammar saavy than most other English speakers, and probably less so since they don't believe in getting a good education. I went to public school and I learned good grammar, but I can't see home-schooling providing that level of education.

Aug. 31 2012 11:00 AM
Amy from Manhattan

If Mitt Romney wanted Pres. Obama to succeed, why didn't he speak out against Republican obstructionism in the Congress? (If he did, I missed it...& I think WNYC would've covered it!)

And I didn't hear "You need an American" as being directed specifically against Pres. Obama but rather as something even beyond the belief in American superiority that we hear all the time--not just "we're better" but "nobody else is any good." It sounds as if only Americans can accomplish anything, which ignores the many achievements of people who aren't Americans. And that's pretty insulting.

Aug. 31 2012 10:59 AM

Global warming jokes. Birther jokes.

Maybe they'd be funny, if only they weren't meant for people who actually believe in the lies.

Aug. 31 2012 10:59 AM
JMD from NY

At least he didn't say I want to help "put food on your family."

Aug. 31 2012 10:58 AM

Rosa needs to go back to Italy. She is getting her fact wrong just like the Republicans. For instance, she says that she is an independent, yet said that she has been a Democrat since she came here, so which one is it? I think she is a Republican. And then she said that the RNC was refreshing because they said the facts?!!! What world is she from? She makes it sound like only immigrants are the only ones who understand what it is like to come to this country and be thankful for it. My husband is very proud, is hard working, and has what he has because he has studied and worked hard, and he is not a recent immigrant like me. However we both are educated enough to know when these Republicans are lying.

Aug. 31 2012 10:57 AM
Joe from nearby

When Mitt says "leave the divisiveness & recriminations behind," he should be directing that to the House Republican obstructionists.

Aug. 31 2012 10:57 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Exactly what I was thinking.

Aug. 31 2012 10:57 AM
Mike from Jersey City from New Jersey

Brian,where are you going to go to recover your journalistic integrity after this whole Obama fling?

Where is the other side? Are you pretending to be the other side? I mean, even Sean Hannity has a greater variety of voices than this.

Aug. 31 2012 10:56 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

This Italian caller seems to have confused the tactics of the Republicans with the Democrats. Unbelievable! Well, another Democratic vote lost.

Aug. 31 2012 10:54 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I thought Eastwood was simply trying to try to deliver his "speech" using a theatrical device, unusual within the context, but not in the theater (including films.)

I like Eastwood, but I did NOT appreciate some of the lines, particularly the repeatedly implying variations of "no, he can't do that to himself."

BUT! I also do NOT believe that his opposition to Obama has anything whatsoever to do with race, not the least.

Eastwood is a longtime Jazz lover -- remember his loving film tribute to -- was it Charlie Parker?

Aug. 31 2012 10:53 AM
NiNi from NYC

One of the comments that really upset me during the conventionwas the one by the delegate that said how we needed a real First Lady. Someone who dresses and acts as a First Lady. I heard it aired on NPR.

Aug. 31 2012 10:52 AM
Penny from Downtown

Please discuss the steady descriptions of the value of "whole" two-parent families; they felt like racial and sexual coding.

Aug. 31 2012 10:51 AM
john from office

They are trying to make Obama a non American.

I would love to have seen the faces of the Tea Party people when the spanish was being spoken!! THIS IS AMERICA SPEAK ENGLISH

Aug. 31 2012 10:50 AM

BRIAN! Ask your guest about Romney's BIRTHER JOKE!!!!!!

Aug. 31 2012 10:50 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

The most shocking thing was Mitt's totally unnecessary jab at global warming. For New Yorkers (and New Englanders), living at the ocean's door, it is really, truly scary.

Aug. 31 2012 10:49 AM
Wendy from nyc

My favorite - when he was talking about not asking his church for money for Bain but the episcopals did ask their church - and referring to how well they did, he said "what do I know?" classic.

Aug. 31 2012 10:48 AM

as a canadian the phrase "North American energy independence" makes me pretty nervous. I'm pretty sure Canada doesn't like him speaking for its energy reserves.

Aug. 31 2012 10:48 AM
Nick from UWS

That "we need an American" remark is one of the most offensive things I have ever heard. Discounting the big contributions to human culture and science made by the entire rest of the world. What a completely disgusting thing to say....I don't know how anyone can tolerate this kind of thing, much less applaud it.

Aug. 31 2012 10:47 AM
bernie from bklyn

how about clint eastwood saying "make my day"......reckless, dangerous..obviously, right?

Aug. 31 2012 10:47 AM


Aug. 31 2012 10:47 AM
Hugh Sansom

The "you need an American" line is certainly an attempt to dredge up the vicious racism directed at Obama.

As for the American flag on the Moon, Romney needs to check the news. It was reported just a couple of weeks ago that the flag of fame was long ago bleached pure white by the completely unfiltered sunlight that hits the lunar surface. There hasn't been an American flag on the lunar surface since the 1980s at the latest.

And there never will be again if we leave things to Republican science and education policy.

Aug. 31 2012 10:47 AM

Please tell me why Huckabee called Obama an evangelical? When did that happen?

Aug. 31 2012 10:47 AM

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