•   27 January 2011

Oui ‘We’

Language is not static but ever evolving. Words come and go and fashions change. Yet a recent study of the US Presidential State of the Union messages, found one word has seen a dramatic increase in popularity since 1900s. This is not ‘Government’, ‘Congress’ or even ‘United States’ as you might expect but ‘We’. In fact, ‘We’ was used more times in these addresses than ‘Public’, ‘Country’ and ‘America’ put together. A massive total of 10,960 times since 1790 (see graph).

Presidents since the turn of the century have truly leveraged the power of ‘We’ and used the media to spread this message, emphasising their role as voice of the people. ‘We’ conjures up a sense of togetherness and shared values, whether Republican or Democrat.  It binds everyone together under a banner of national identity. Almost 43 million Americans tuned in yesterday to watch President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech live on television.

So, what does this teach us about the nature of language and the media?

It’s a good lesson in how communicators and the media can shape language. To do this, we need to get the media on our side so they (literally) ‘spread the word for us’.  For instance, the media and PR world’s proliferation of the buzz word ‘App’ maybe why the American Dialect Society has voted it the Word of the Year for 2011.

So we need to be savvy wordsmiths but also have our ears to the ground – listening out for that linguistic gem.  When it’s found, and accepted by the media, like Presidents have found with ‘We’, it becomes one of our most powerful communicational tools.

*Here’s the text of President Obama’s State of the Union address (a prize to the first person who counts all the ‘We’s’): http://news.hereisthecity.com/news/news/business_news/9870.cntns