Tuesday, January 13, 2009

O.K., like, some political bits and pieces are still interesting. You know.

Like this one. Apparently Caroline Kennedy is an honors graduate of the George W. Bush School of Elocution. The New Yorker put this one in the "Eliza Doolittle Dept."

In 2001, shortly after being sworn into the Senate, Hillary Clinton gave a press conference to address questions related to her husband’s Presidential pardons. The Times observed that she used the word “disappointed” ten times, in reference to her brother, Hugh Rodham, who had accepted four hundred thousand dollars to lobby on behalf of a couple of criminals. (One was pardoned, and the other got out of jail early.) Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at Berkeley, read a partial transcript of Clinton’s remarks and was struck by the recurrence of something else: the phrase “you know,” which in her line of work is recognized as a “discourse marker” or a “pragmatic particle.” She recalled her old graduate student Jan-Ola Östman’s 1980 master’s thesis, “You Know: A Discourse-Functional Study,” and was moved to write an essay, “Now You Know About Hillary Rodham Clinton,” in which she speculated that even “very sophisticated and articulate public persons” might repeat the phrase excessively when feeling vulnerable. Lakoff wrote, “Senator Clinton keeps using you know, whether hopefully or desperately, as a plea: ‘Please see it my way—because we share the same world-view.’ ”

Clinton’s “you know” count came to nineteen. Her possible senatorial replacement, Caroline Kennedy, would seem, by this standard, to be overqualified. She met with a couple of Times reporters recently and said “you know” a hundred and thirty-eight times. Speaking to the News, and on NY1, she broke two hundred. The effect, however, was not to suggest a shared world view but to recall what some commentators refer to as the “Roger Mudd moment”—a reference to the CBS correspondent who flummoxed Caroline’s uncle, Ted Kennedy, in 1979, with questions about his desire to run for President:

Ted: “Well, it’s—on what—on, you know, you have to come to grips with the different issues that we’re facing. I mean, we can—we’d have to deal with each of the various questions that we’re talking about.” Caroline, on Ted: “I mean, he loves the Senate. It’s been, you know, the most, you know, rewarding life for him, you know. I’m sure he would love it to feel like somebody that he cared about had that same kind of opportunity.”

Mudd, last week, reflected, “All Kennedys have always been hard interviews,” and added, “At least she didn’t use the word ‘like,’ did she?” (She did, but not nearly so noticeably.)

There's more here.