Bill Clinton talks about Germanic vs. Romance vocabulary in English while on the stump for Barack Obama in Florida

Thursday, October 02, 2008

(well, not exactly)

I've often heard here and there that in spite of the fact that English has a huge amount of Romance vocabulary (about 60% or so) which only leaves a bit over a quarter of Germanic origin, using Germanic words still has a much more visceral impact on people and when crafting a speech you want to use as many of them as possible.

Yesterday Bill Clinton was stumping for Barack Obama in Florida, and he gave a great speech as always. I've been a fan of Clinton since I can remember and even during the primaries when he was a bit miffed at the wins Barack Obama was clocking up it was understandable considering that the candidate was none other than his wife. But I digress; take a listen to this part of the speech here:

The only word that doesn't seem to belong in a speech crafted to excite people at that point is the word 'relatively' at 0:40 - "...will be relatively more important in the first two years of the presidency." Now imagine that relatively had been replaced with that much more. Wouldn't that one sentence have been that much more effective? Or am I simply making things up? I've never seen a source that proves that Germanic vocabulary is generally better at affecting the emotions of English speakers than Romance vocabulary, so that theory could be wrong.

Edit: here's some more of the speech that doesn't include the above.


Anonymous said...

I think this is a somewhat problematic comparison, because "that much more" is stronger than "relatively more" in meaning, beyond questions of tone. "Relatively" is a sort of hedging construction, while "that much more" is basically as forceful as saying "even more".

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