From colonies to terrorists

by Eszter Hargittai on November 4, 2006

Ooh, this is cool. You can view a tag cloud of the most common words in U.S. presidential speeches, declarations and letters since 1776. Slide the arrows on the bar to move from the representation of one document to another. The bottom of the page has a detailed description of how the tag clouds were generated, it looks like a careful approach. What a neat idea. [thanks]

{ 1 trackback }

Jacob Christensen » What the Presidents Said
11.04.06 at 8:19 am



John Quiggin 11.04.06 at 6:12 am

Cool indeed! Reflecting my own interests, I noticed that “Economic” gets a big run right through the 20th century, but doesn’t appear at all in the 19th.

There are a few occurrences of “economy”, but I suspect that the C19 uses are as a synonym for frugality, rather than to the reification we call “The Economy”.


Sean McCann 11.04.06 at 7:41 am

“Economic” stands out for sure, as does the recent “terrorist.” I was especially struck, though, by the way “family” all of a sudden becomes a big word during the 80s and remains so through the Clinton years.


Andrew Reynolds 11.04.06 at 7:42 am

And one, sad, note – the word “war” appears in all but two – George Washington’s inaugural address and FDR’s “Program for Social Security”. So, except for one special purpose speech it has been in them all, except at the founding.
Some things (almost) never change.


Dan Kervick 11.04.06 at 10:24 am

The word “constitution” appears with great frequency through most of the 19th century, and then its use appears to decline sharply in the twentieth, with a symbolic flare-up in a 1913 TR speech celebrating the bold exercise of executive power.


C.L. Ball 11.04.06 at 11:23 am

‘Family’ stops being a frequent word after the 9/11 attacks. Bush 43 uses it extensively until then.


Colin Danby 11.04.06 at 12:28 pm

To flesh out John’s insight. (The link they give you has full texts.)

“Economy” and “economic” emerge as terms that mean the opposite of extravagant. But the adjective “economic” crosses over first into the more contemporary meaning of the entire complex of production-distribution-consumption. A quick glance suggests the dividing line is in the 1890s:

Cleveland 1895: “steps already taken toward improving our economic and financial situation”
McKinley 1897: “solve the economic problem”
McKinley 1899: “information as to the industries and commerce of other countries … official data of an economic character”
TR 1901: “stability of our economic system”

The noun “economy” remains firmly a term for anti-extravagance until, as far as I can see, Hoover and the Depression.

Here we have Hoover using the term in the traditional sense:

Hoover 1929: “extravagance and not economy”
Hoover 1930: “Most rigid economy is therefore necessary to avoid increase in taxes”

And then:

Hoover 1931: “yet our self-contained national economy, with its matchless strength and resources”

Which seems like the first appearance of the phrase “national economy.”

“Economy” disappears altogether in FDR’s addresses for obvious reasons, until it appears in its contemporary sense in 1939

FDR 1939: “technological improvements have brought to our economy over the last twenty years”

though there is also intriguingly:
FDR 1941: “our social economy”


Matt McIrvin 11.04.06 at 1:15 pm

Also, Bush has actually been stressing “terrorists” harder and harder as the years since 2001 go on; it’s a more prominent word in 2006 than it was in the speeches in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11th attacks that were all about fighting terrorists.


melanie 11.04.06 at 7:15 pm

Like Andrew Reynolds, the first word I looked for was war. Only 2 speeches in 230 years!

Interestingly the word Vietnam doesn’t appear until 1967 – when that war was already, to all intents and purposes, lost.


Thompsaj 11.04.06 at 10:57 pm

One thing that I wouldn’t look for without my prejudices are trends in GWOT terms like “qaeda” “terrorists”, etc. which appear after 911, then “regimes” and “weapons” in 2002, then, a year later, Bush goes apesh*t about “saddam”, “hussein”, “weapons” and “iraq”. Also, surprising Bin Laden does not appear at all.


Syd Webb 11.05.06 at 1:37 am

Melanie wrote:

Interestingly the word Vietnam doesn’t appear until 1967 – when that war was already, to all intents and purposes, lost.

Don’t forget that Lyn Johnson’s campaign in 1964 was almost a rehash of Woody Wilson’s in 1916, “He kept us out of the war.” This may go some way to explaining the Basil Fawltysque “Don’t mention the war!” approach of the mid-60s.


Robert Waldmann 11.05.06 at 5:28 pm

One thing I find interesting is that if you slide around the transition 92/93 without looking at the year itself, it is very hard to notice a change.

Clinton repeatedly used the same words “family” “freedom” that Bush Sr used. Willy was slick

Comments on this entry are closed.