Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush

3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0618443741
ISBN-10: 0618443746
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The author of popular works on American speech (e.g., How We Talk: American Regional English Today, 2000), Metcalf presents a lighthearted journey through the rhetoric of our country's 43 presidents, critiquing their abilities as orators and their idiosyncrasies of accent and locution. Their speechwriters also come in for discussion, but Metcalf largely bends his ear to the presidential utterance, whether composed by the speaker or not. Collectively speaking, presidents are divided into two categories, those declaiming before the invention of sound recording and those after. The former more naturally wear the orator's toga, Metcalf rating John Adams as the best but awarding a consolation prize to one postphonograph president, the Great Bloviator himself, Warren G. Harding. Today we think of presidential speech as communication rather than oration, a style whose best exponents, Metcalf decides, have been FDR and Ronald Reagan. For verbal inventiveness, the author says Thomas Jefferson is tops, although he is weirdly rivaled by the "misunderestimated" George W. Bush. An entertaining and fast read for history buffs. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

Allan Metcalf is a professor of English at MacMurray College, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, and author of books on language and writing. His books on language include AMERICA IN SO MANY WORDS (with David K. Barnhart), THE WORLD IN SO MANY WORDS, HOW WE TALK: AMERICAN REGIONAL ENGLISH TODAY, PREDICTING NEW WORDS, and PRESIDENTIAL VOICES. His books on writing include RESEARCH TO THE POINT and ESSENTIALS OF WRITING TO THE POINT. He lives in Jacksonville, Illinois.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (July 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618443746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618443741
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,692,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Allan Metcalf is OK. In fact, he's never been more OK than now, with the publication of his "OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word" by Oxford University Press. Doesn't sound right to say a person or book is merely OK? Right! and you can read all about it in the book, which was featured in a full-page review by Roy Blount Jr. in the November 21, 2010 New York Times Book Review. OK is unquestionably America's greatest word, indeed arguably (and the book argues it) America's greatest invention and most successful export. And yet it's so humble, we hardly notice it as we pepper (or salt) our communications with OK. We're going to celebrate March 23, 2011 as OK Day - the anniversary of the birth of OK in a Boston newspaper in 1839.

He's written five previous books about language, and a book about expository writing (Writing to the Point, 6th edition) that is the best such book ever - at least he thinks so, because it embodies a lucid method that is the only writing instruction that has ever improved his own writing. (It's a method invented by William J. Kerrigan years ago.)

He's a professor of English at MacMurray College in Illinois, and long ago earned a B.A. from Cornell University and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He's also executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, a national scholarly association for the study of American English, past and present.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John M. Ford on December 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Allan Metcalf admits he could not decide between two organizational schemes for this book, so he used both. Bad news for the trees, but good news for readers who can alternate between a thematic treatment of the language used by U.S. presidents and an appendix of president-by-president profiles.

The initial chapters divide U.S. presidents by general speaking style. Chapter 1 showcases George Washington, "The Original" whose speeches were formal and brief. Chapter 2 focuses on "The Orators," a group of early presidents who excelled at lengthy, majestic speaking--a style largely abandoned in our age. The four top orating presidents are John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams and James Garfield. Warren Harding is honored as "The Great Bloviator" for his grandly tedious orations. Chapter 3, "The Great Communicators," describes presidents who succeeded at technology-enhanced communication through broadcast media. Masters of this art include Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Chapter 4, "The Speechwriters," recognizes presidents who eschewed speechwriters and penned their own public addresses. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln stand out in this group. Chapter 5, "The Down-to-Earth President," presents the everyday speech of Andy Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

The final chapters discuss aspects of presidential speech that are present in each presidency. Chapter 6, "The Blunderers," reviews slips-of-the-tongue and other verbal misadventures, inaugurating George W. Bush the "Blunderer-in-Chief." Chapter 7, "Presidents as Neologists," examines new words coined or popularized by presidents. These terms range from Washington's "administration" to George W. Bush's "misunderestimate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Sieber on April 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Metcalf does an excellent job of analyzing the presidents' speaking styles and giving us examples of how they would have pronounced words while president. Metcalf also analyzes trends between the speaking styles of presidents to see if there is any link that would make a candidate more likely to get elected.

The author also lists words that are attributed to presidents in the Oxford English Dictionary for a first, popular, or unique usage. At first these lists are interesting, but after about the 10th president, they become rather boring. Several times in the book, the reader has to read a whole paragraph just to see how one of the presidents used a certain word that is listed in the OED.

There aren't many books on this same subject, so I would still recommend that you read it if you find the subject interesting.

It's still an interesting book, but it certainly didn't meet my expectations.
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By Michael Larthey on April 29, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush
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