Plain Spoken


I think Dave Weigel at TWI gets this right, and Roger Simon got it wrong.

The kind of speaking Sarah Palin does has never, in the long and colorful history of America, been known as “being plain-spoken.”  Never.  She’s precisely the opposite of plain-spoken.  Plain speaking is terse, abrupt, bordering on rude.  Being plain-spoken means getting directly to your point, clearly and with no fluff or folderol.

Palin can’t find her point with both hands.  A Palin answer or speech goes ’round and ’round in a wobbly, ever-enlarging spiral, like a tornado, sucking in random bits of this and that from all over creation, until it finally disappears up its own ellipsis.

“Rambling” and “disjointed” are precisely what she is, contra Simon.  And rambling and disjointed speech has never been called “plain-spoken,” not outside the Beltway; nor is it respected — nor often even tolerated — by the plain-spoken.


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5 Responses to “Plain Spoken”

  1. michaellasley Says:

    A) Simon’s piece is so poorly written it took me a couple of tries to even understand it. I think it was his “maybe she’s pregnant” joke that threw me off.

    B) From what I could gather, Simon isn’t necessarily saying Palin is easy to understand so much as she’s not a polished rhetor, she doesn’t necessarily draft her speeches and consult with advisers before speaking. This seems to be what Simon defines as plain-spoken. Because it befuddles the elites, as he says at the end. So plain speaking is just any speech that isn’t polished and professional sounding.

    Which is why some people are attracted to her, I think. It’s not that she makes sense, it’s not that her rhetoric is any more accessible than Obama’s, it’s that it doesn’t sound Ivy League and fancy. Plain-speak ain’t about what you say, it’s about how you say it.

    Although, seriously, Simon didn’t seem to have much of a point to begin with, so maybe I missed it.

  2. urbino Says:

    Yeah, but I think I still disagree. I don’t care how unpolished your rhetoric is, if it goes ’round and ’round in circles without ever coming to the point, it isn’t plain-speaking — not as that term has generally been used in American culture, anyway.

    Will Rogers was plain-spoken. Steinbeck characters are plain-spoken. Mike Huckabee is usually plain-spoken. James Carville is plain-spoken. Sarah Palin is not plain-spoken.

    All of them are unpolished, but not all of them are plain-spoken.

  3. michaellasley Says:

    I disagree with neither your your definition of plain spoken nor your examples. But I actually don’t think Simon is using the term in the same way you are. Plain spoken to him represents speech that is not filtered through consultants. (That seems to be his entire definition, so far as he gives one.) It’s not about actually being plain. I wouldn’t define that as plain spoken, but I think Simon’s point — if his bolded section is the actual emphasis of his article (which, again, seriously? He has a national column and you don’t? Because I just re-read it, and I’m hard-pressed to come up with an actual point) — is that the segment of the population she’s pandering to equates “not being filtered through a political consultant” with “plain-spoken.”

    This segment of the population thinks she is plain spoken for no real reason other than because she is unpolished. Because she befuddles elitists and in-the-know types. Because she doesn’t say anything so well as Obama would say it, someone who has loads of consultants. In every way that matters to her audience, she is the anti-Obama.

    Simon is trying to re-define plain-spoken, sure. He’s not using it to denote actual plain speaking; he seems to be using it to refer to the speech patterns that a certain segment of the population values.

    Or maybe I mis-read his article.

  4. urbino Says:

    Right, I’m down with all that. Or, I would be if: a) Simon made it explicit he was redefining terms, and b) Simon didn’t explicitly say, “Once upon a time in American politics, this was known as being ‘plain-spoken.'”

    That’s my beef. There wasn’t a time in American politics (or any other segment of American culture) when Palin’s spiraling buzzword-speak was known as being plain-spoken. America’s long-held notion of plain speaking is precisely the opposite of what Palin does.

    By saying there was such a time, Simon is invoking the notion that we’ve all gotten too hoity-toity and finessed, whereas we used to be plain-spoken. We’ve gotten so hoity-toity that Big Shot Media Types can’t even recognize plain speaking for what it is, anymore.

    None of which is true.

    The whole thing wouldn’t be so terribly annoying if not for the fact that, through the entire article, Simon is posing as some kind of contrarian populist by listing all the “commandments” from the Big Shots that Palin has broken, thereby reinforcing the precise nonfactual that seems to be the whole point of his article: that Sarah Palin is beloved because she speaks her mind, and in language that working-class folks can understand and identify with.

    She does no such thing, and that’s not what her appeal is.

    (And while we’re talking about language, I never cease to be amazed at the words this spell-checker doesn’t know. What are they using, a middle school dictionary?)

  5. jazzbumpa Says:

    I went to THE FREE DICTIONARY, that font of all knowledge.

    a. 1. Speaking with plain, unreserved sincerity; also, spoken sincerely; as, plain-spoken words.

    Frank; straightforward; blunt.

    Mirriam-Webster online
    : candid, frank

    So Palin is not primarily not plain-spoken due to her incomprehensible circularity, but rather because she’s a god-damned liar.

    Simon, OTOH, is just a fuck-up.

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