Saturday, May 30, 2009

It's just a phrase; he'll grow out of it

Our current president is famous for being a more accomplished public speaker than our previous leader. He's given inspiring speeches on the national (and international) stage that lots of people can cheer with. He even gives prime-time press conferences so often it's begun to annoy the TV networks. When every network uses the same news feed and there aren't any commercial breaks or even lower-corner splash graphics for KFC, the networks actually lose money every time Obama makes a speech on a Tuesday or Thursday evening.

The last time Obama had a prime-time press conference (on his 100th day), the FOX network didn't air it, preferring to show its own programming. It was pointed out that the Fox network has previous chosen not to run other presidential speeches, such as George W. Bush in November of 2001. But Fox doesn't have a network news team to tap for on-the-fly coverage like the other networks. The cable channel FoxNews, while owned by the same parent company, is largely independent; one doesn't see ads for cable news shows following "Simpsons" or hear "The coverage continues on Fox News Channel" as one does on NBC/MSNBC.

So now we have a president who talks TOO much. He does have one verbal tic that annoys me and grates on my ears: his use of the word "look" in his press conferences, debates, and other extemporaneous material. I don't know WHY it annoys me so much, but it just seems like a wrench in the works.

I am indeed calling this kettle black, even though I have my own verbal annoyances. I go through stages where I overuse the construction "you know" to the point that my mother brings it up and says it's distracting. I dislike that about my own conversation, just as I dislike "look" in the President's. Still, Caroline Kennedy once used "you know" 238 times in 41 minutes, so I'm by no means the most flagrant offender.

I came across an article from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, published March 29, 2009. It forwards an explanation that I hadn't thought about: that Obama's go-to word is more of a verbal tell about how his answer is formed, rather than (what I thought) Harvard Law's version of "ummm..." A sociology professor gives an opinion that perhaps the word indicates that the answer to the question requires some rehearsal of background information, so here it comes.

I know that were I using that word in conversation, I'd probably use it to try to reign in an answer which has drifted away from the original question. It'd be the verbal equivalent of "let me sum up".

PRESS CORPS: Mr. President, can you outline your upcoming birthday plans?

PRESIDENT DOCTOR ANDY: The situation in that city has escalated beyond all predictions. I have been in consultations with our armed forces personnel, and they have assured me that all notable security measures have been taken. In addition, I've contacted our ambassadors to Israel and Brazil to be ready to move at a moments notice, depending on the situation on the ground. I have full assurances from Russian president Medvedev that neither he nor his country want their to be an increase in nuclear preparedness.

Look... we're going to have cake... and possibly a clown. Next question.

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