In the comments on my post "Another Lie from George Will" (5/7/2012), GeorgeW asked
I think I hear Obama use 'extraordinary' and 'extraordinarily' a lot (an 'extraordinary' amount). Is there a way to check this in your data?
In 127 speech transcripts, in a total of 110,100 words, Obama uses extraordinary 17 times and extraordinarily once. That's a combined rate of 1000000*18/110100 = 163 per million words. In the 425-million-word COCA corpus, extraordinary occurs 13,360 times and extraordinarily 2,701 times, for a combined rate of 1000000*(13360+2701)/425000000 = 38 per million words.
So relative to the language at large, he (or his speech-writers) do use extraordinary a lot.
How this compares to political oratory from other sources is a different question.
Eugene followed up:
[W]ouldn't a president talk about extraordinary things from time to time?
So I thought I'd look into this a bit more, over lunch.
I downloaded from the web site of the UCSB American Presidency Project everything in the "Oral: Address - Saturday Radio" category. This yielded 1345 transcripts of presidential Saturday radio messages, as follows:
And what are the extraordinary numbers for these five presidents?
|Count||Rate (per million words)|
So except for Reagan, the others do use extraordinary at about twice the background rate; but Obama's rate is about four times the background. (The rates for Bush 1 are hard to interpret, because his total word count in this particular category is so small.)
Some other aspects of the frequency counts are slightly intresting.
George W. Bush used enemy and enemies a lot; Ronald Reagan was fond of weakness; Bill Clinton was big on smoking:
|enemy/-ies||per milion||weakness||per million||smoking||per million|
Update — As long as we're comparing these collections of presidential radio addresses, let's take a look at the rates of first-person singular pronoun usage:
What do these numbers mean?
Nothing at all, except in the context of statements like this:
George Will: If you struck from Barack Obama’s vocabulary the first-person singular pronoun, he would fall silent, which would be a mercy to us and a service to him, actually.
I recognize that Mr. Will is speaking hyperbolically. But the clear meaning of his hyperbole is that Barack Obama uses first-person singular pronouns excessively often; and in that context, this otherwise-meaningless comparison of rates also acquires a meaning, namely that George Will is careless with the truth.
For links to an excessively large number of posts making similar points, see here.