Obama has said the word “folks” at least 348 times during presidential news conferences.
That's approximately 7.3 times per 10,000 words — more than double the next-closest president:
The charts in this post are based on BuzzFeed News' analysis of more than 2,000 presidential news conference transcripts dating back to 1929. (Earlier posts have examined Obama's use of "I" and "we," and presidential jokes.)
Obama’s use of “folks” peaked in 2012:
Obama uses “folks” to refer to all different types of folks.
In this one sentence about the economy from a news conference on August 20, 2012, Obama used the word "folks" while referring to himself and two larger groups of people:
And I continue to be open to seeing Congress approach this with a balanced plan that has tough spending cuts, building on the trillion dollars' worth of spending cuts that we've already made, but also asks for additional revenue from folks like me, from folks in the top 1 or 2 percent, to make sure that folks who can least afford it aren't suddenly bearing the burden and we're providing some additional certainty to small businesses and families going forward.
Obama also used the word "folks" in August to refer to victims of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques.
The rise of “folks” is part of a general decline in the formality of political speech
… according to John McWhorter, a linguist and Columbia University professor. "Our notion today of public speech is much less formal," McWhorter told BuzzFeed News. "In fact, to be formal is often a handicap."
McWhorter said that there was a "major shift" in speech during George W. Bush's presidency towards a more informal style. One of the things that both Bush and Obama have in common? Using "okay" more often than most.
Another George W. Bush favorite: “you know.”
Dubya used the phrase 12 times per 10,000 words — more than any other president. During his final news conference on Jan. 12, 2009, Bush said "you know" 47 times. An excerpt:
You know, Presidents can try to avoid hard decisions, and therefore, avoid controversy. That's just not my nature. I'm the kind of person that, you know, is willing to take on hard tasks, and in times of war people get emotional; I understand that. Never really, you know, spent that much time, frankly, worrying about the loud voices. I, of course, hear them, but they didn't affect my policy, nor did they affect how I made decisions.
As the chart below shows, the phrase "you know" was also popular with Bill Clinton, but Obama has largely avoided it during his news conferences.
That's all, folks.
Note: The analysis for this post can be found here.
John Templon is a data reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2FF6 89D6 9606 812D 5663 C7CE 2DFF BE75 55E5 DF99
Contact John Templon at email@example.com.
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