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US Presidential Election and the English Language

February 7, 2012

US presidential elections have their own vocabulary. Phrases that the ordinary person would have no reason to use, fortunately. Elections are at least as much based on sound-bites as it is on politics and identities.

Last year “talking-heads” were wondering when the Democrats would  “coalesce around the candidate“.

This year, the relentless barrage of commentary and analysis on each candidate’s every fart (graphed and polled) has helped enliven yet another set of lexicon. As a word-lover, I would like to take a minute to appreciate some of them.

“Throwing red meat” [at the base]

This is when a candidate says something specifically intended to get their base “energized” (another buzz word — actually “buzz word” is a buzzword. How weird). It’s widely accepted that bigotry and intolerance speaks to the GOP base. Class and race politics belong to the Democrats. Apparently. The meat is neatly packaged, no need to think too much.


Not to be confused with whistle-blowing.

Dog-whistling is when a candidate says something fairly controversial which most people who do not follow the issue wouldn’t know is a controversial stance. Like claiming that “Palestinian people don’t exist.”  That one falls both in the red meat and (dog) whistling category.

Feel played? Yeah, that’s normal. You think you are being clever, but you are just a dog answering the master’s call — maybe.

“High-net worth individuals”


They had to come up with a different word to describe Mitt Romney’s wealth. Presidential candidates are typically rich, Mitt Romney is a “high-net worth individual” — effectively completing his robot persona.

“Painting a [political party] into a corner”

This is when a candidate gives the impression that the opposing political party has no choice, but to do Thing A, instead of Thing B. It’s not “pushing” them, it’s painting. That word makes a difference.

It’s an illusion, in other words. The politician is painting a picture that may or may not be true. There’s a lot of that going on these days.


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