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A friend wondered why Sarah Palin so often inserts the word "there" gratuitously into her statements:

"There was deception there..."

"Barack Obama though, another story there."

Below is my off-the-cuff response to that question, ah, there:

A linguist would probably have a precise term for such a construction; but my own amateur take is it's a verbal crutch she has developed to compensate for a lack of precision in her thinking and a lack of mastery of sentence and paragraph structure.

If struggling to construct a precise and compelling thought on the fly, and more descriptive words fail her or the rhythm is off, inserting "there" helps her make the idea sound more fully formed than it actually is. It is a sort of final brushstroke she adds to her verbal creations, hoping it will add a shiny finish to the blurry picture she just painted.

Bush has similar problems with an his own (even more) evident lack of command of the language. He treats ideas, groups, factoids as lumps of clay to be pushed around a virtual verbal grid... hoping that if he keeps moving them around, they might land by chance in some harmonious configuration.

Palin's use of "there" betrays this same problem of confusing ideas/facts with self-contained and unwieldy objects. She says "there" as if she were lifting up a heavy, difficult baby and setting it down across the room, hoping it will stop crying.

As with Bush, one gets the impression that she doesn't read much -- otherwise, she'd have picked up more of a feeling for these structures.

... Or maybe the extra "there" is just some regional tic.

Anyway, it's a theory. I'll leave you with George Orwell, from his 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language":

[T]he decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

Originally posted to Hudson on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 07:19 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips, and a question (7+ / 0-)

    So, does anyone know if there is a linguistic term for this kind of verbal tic?

    "Animals are my friends. And I don't eat my friends." -- George Bernard Shaw

    by Hudson on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 07:20:10 AM PDT

  •  "Those people" (4+ / 0-)

    In my little town a rash of speeding (driving too fast) began to develop. Citizens became outrages and some were to heard to say

    "We gotta do something about those people"

    Which people? Who was doing the speeding? Why "us" of course. Nefarious outsiders were not coming to our town to speed, WE were speeding and yes WE should stop speeding but use of the term "them" demonstrated a clear failure to think through the problem.

    It also is a very useful technique to avoid being specific which was Job #1 for Sarah Palin last night.

    Platitudes, platitudes, platitudes. Using passive voice and "indefinite referents" (that might be one term you are looking for) evades specificity and responsibility.

    Fence post turtles don't get up there by themselves, some moron had to put 'em there.

    by Bill White on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 07:29:07 AM PDT

  •  Watching Gov. Palin (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hudson, Killer of Sacred Cows

    I thought was a lot like eating cotton candy -- sweet and fluffy, and no substance.

    "The diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty." James Madison

    by mslat27 on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 07:33:56 AM PDT

  •  If she had been reading stuff.......... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hudson, Killer of Sacred Cows, Fonsia

    .........then better sentence construction might have rubbed off on her.

    I guess it didn't.

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 07:38:59 AM PDT

  •  And can we ask that she undergo ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... a "that-ectomy"?  Along with the "there-ectomy"?

  •  My hypothesis is that she's got a (0+ / 0-)

    mental processing problem which prevents her from recognizing the relationship between cause and effect.  This would account for the logical disconnect as well as her inability to actually think.

    Mainly, what she's doing is reacting to verbal prompts with whatever topically related information is in her memory bank.  If there's nothing there, she talks about something else that the brain has memorized after hearing someone else speak.  That there's no comprehension accounts for the utterance of disconnected phrases.  She doesn't know she's not making sense, probably because her frontal lobes aren't doing the job.

    It's apparent from what the brain can construct while we are sleeping (dreams) that stored memories can be retrieved and appear to make sense without any conscious supervision.  That's what seems to be happening here.  But, as is so often the case, appearances are deceiving.

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 08:11:18 AM PDT

    •  Logical disconnect (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hannah, Hudson

      [S]he's got a mental processing problem which prevents her from recognizing the relationship between cause and effect.  This would account for the logical disconnect as well as her inability to actually think.

      Most right-wingers do. Bob Altemeyer actually goes into great detail about this in his online book The Authoritarians. I quote:

      I gave the inferences test that Mary Wegmann had used to two large samples of students at my university. In both studies [right-wing authoritarians] went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:

      All fish live in the sea.
      Sharks live in the sea.
      Therefore, sharks are fish.

      The conclusion does not follow, but [right-wing authoritarians] would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, "Because sharks are fish." In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right. Or to put it another way, they don’t "get it" that the reasoning matters--especially on a reasoning test.

      (Altemeyer 2006, p. 76 - the [edits] are to expand his acronyms)

      This is both sad and scary. Logical reasoning doesn't make sense to these folks, so they don't use it. But they think they are using it!

      Comfort the disturbed. Disturb the comfortable.

      by Killer of Sacred Cows on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 08:35:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well said [n/t] (0+ / 0-)

      "Animals are my friends. And I don't eat my friends." -- George Bernard Shaw

      by Hudson on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 08:47:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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