Whore or horde?

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Several people have written to ask whether phonetic analysis can settle a Canadian political controversy, described in a November 19 CBC News article "Sask. MP Tom Lukiwski denies callng female politician a 'whore'":

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski has denied that he referred to a female politician as a "whore" — and interim party leader Rona Ambrose says she accepts his explanation.

"I did not say 'whore,'" Lukiwski told CBC News on Thursday. "I said 'horde,' as in NDP gang."

Lukiwski's comment came after Saskatchewan journalist Mickey Djuric blogged about Lukiwski's victory speech at the Eagles Club in Moose Jaw, Sask., on election night, Oct. 19. […]

"This is a very important election provincially," Lukiwski said. "We got to get Greg back elected."

"He's too important of an MLA to let go down to an NDP" — and at this point Lukiwski says either "whore" or "horde" —"just because of a bad boundary."

A video was posted on youtube:

Here's the audio for the critical sequence:

And zooming in further:

This sounds to me like "NDP whore", but I have to admit that in a sequence like

 whore just  horde just
/hɔɹ.dʒʊst/ /hɔɹd.dʒʊst/

the final /d/ of "horde" and the initial [d] of the voiced affricate /dʒ/ that starts "just" are likely to merge into a single [d] closure, without any re-articulation,  so that the only difference would be a slightly longer closure.

The acoustic quality of the audio in that video is so poor (reverberation and hum) that it's hard to determine what the closure duration really is in this case — but my best guess (from listening and looking at the waveform and spectrogram) is about 80 msec:

Compare the 75 msec closure in the middle of the sequence "bad joke" from a conversation in the LDC Fisher Corpus (sorry that the time scales are different):

On the other hand, another youtube video, documenting some political headquarters kidding around 24 years ago, suggest that Mr. Luwiski is not incapable of un-PC utterances:


  1. Thomas Quinn said,

    November 21, 2015 @ 11:29 pm

    …an NDP…, not …the NDP… — I think this is significant

  2. Chris Waigl said,

    November 22, 2015 @ 12:08 am

    "Just because of a bad boundary."

  3. Gene Callahan said,

    November 22, 2015 @ 4:04 am

    @Thomas: "…an NDP…, not …the NDP… — I think this is significant"

    Nope: one could just as easily be mentioning "an NDP horde" as "an NDP whore," if one does not think of the entire NDP as a single horde.

  4. Bob Ladd said,

    November 22, 2015 @ 6:10 am

    It may be worth noting the accent pattern – he's clearly saying NDP [word] rather than NDP [word]. It strikes me that this slightly favours Luwiski's claim that he said horde – if he was intending to call the other candidate names, whore would more likely be accented (NDP whore), whereas the actual pattern with the final word of the phrase deaccented is more compatible with some noun denoting the collective of NDP voters within the bad boundary (like NDP gang or NDP crowd). This is certainly not an argument-clinching piece of evidence, but it might be some reason to give the guy the benefit of the acoustic doubt.

  5. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 22, 2015 @ 10:50 am

    This reminds me of a New York literary ruckus some years back when Norman Mailer was under fire for allegedly calling an elevator operator a Jew during a drunken outburst. Mailer insisted he had sarcastically called him a "pearl," but a witness who was on the same elevator distinctly heard Mailer say "jewel."

  6. Shirley Steele said,

    November 22, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

    I'm inclined to agree with Bob Ladd about the accent pattern. If "whore" were already understood in the discourse, then you could imagine that it might be destressed, but generally you would expect it to have some degree of stress. Plus, 80 msec seems a bit long if there's only the word-initial consonant there. That said, I sure don't hear it!

  7. Jesse Stewart said,

    November 22, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

    Hello, On the 20th, I was asked to do an analysis of the audio for the Regina Leader-Post (here's a link to the article).

    While the reporter didn't seem to quite get the gist of what I was saying e.g., the whole sentence referring to 'core-articulation' and J's being D's etc. I'd like to share my actual analysis:

    The supposed closure in the actual audio is, as you say, very hard to determine, but based in my analysis, my version of 'r' is a bit longer than yours. I based this on the formant and wave patterns of the 'r' and listening to different versions of the segment by adjusting its boundaries. I deemed that it was still audible throughout my final annotation (give or take a few milliseconds) and this lined up with the spectral and wave correlates one would hope to find; decrease of spectral energy and a decrease in amplitude in the wave (give or take a few milliseconds). The final boundary of the closure was based on just the opposite; the increase in amplitude in the wave and an increase of energy in the spectrogram.

    My textgrid, audio sample, and images can be found here:

    I then recorded myself saying "an NDP ____ just because of" using both words. The duration of the closure of 'whore' was approx. 16 ms while for 'horde' it was approx. 78 ms. In my analysis of the political debacle, the area which I deemed closure was approx. 19 ms.
    The spectrogram of my voice is also in the link above, I didn't add the recordings as to not in up in the same situation as dear Tom ;-) .
    I also wanted to point out that the area you have annotated as 'd' still has some formant activity coming from the 'r'. Even if I expand the boundary, it's still not approaching the 80 ms mark. My segmentation of the closure, however, is very similar to the version of 'whore' I posted above (18 ms) while my 'horde' was about 78 ms.

    Then there's the context. 'An NDP horde', was Gary up against a number of NDP candidates or just one female candidate? If we drop the NDP, we're left with 'He's too important of an MLA to let it go down to a horde just because of a bad boundary.' His choice of article is telling.

    Anyway, it's fascinating to see the differences between our two interpretations of the same audio (albeit very low quality audio). I should also point out that, when I was saying both versions, it was actually kind of hard to insert the 'd' in 'horde' in fast speech, and I kept getting a schwa after the release.

  8. Rodger C said,

    November 22, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

    That story deserves some free Soviet jewelry.

  9. Eneri Rose said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 11:08 am

    On a distantly related note, has there been an analysis of the theme song for The Big Bang Theory? The Barenaked Ladies seem to sing "14 Million years ago", where they should sing Billion.

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 11:31 am

    Out of the range of plausible sentences an emotional and presumably working-off-script politician could potentially utter using the word "whore," it seems like most of the them would be much much harder to deny than this (i.e. it would be much harder to salvage the situation by coming up with an alleged different word actually uttered that on both semantic and spectrum-analysis grounds was difficult to rule out). From which I conclude that the options are: (i) this guy is unusually lucky; (ii) this guy is unusually good at building plausible deniability into his seemingly off-the-cuff angry statements; or (iii) this guy actually said "horde."

  11. Lazar said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

    @Eneri Rose: Carl Sagan made a point of emphasizing the b in billion in order to avoid that sort of confusion – and was made fun of for it.

  12. Sam Buggeln said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 2:40 pm

    It seems unlikely that someone would use that rude an epithet with such a good-natured look on his face.

    This reminds me of the old drag queen joke about the Sound of Music. When Mother Superior asks Maria, in the classic mid-Atlantic accent of those Hollywood days, "What is it you cahnt face?," drag Maria responds with outrage, "Did you just call me a c***face?" Charles Busch gets a lot of mileage out of it in The Divine Sister.

  13. DWalker said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

    @Eneri Rose:

    "…The Big Bang Theory? The Barenaked Ladies seem to sing "14 Million years ago", where they should sing Billion."

    It definitely sounds like "14 million years ago" to me.

  14. ohwilleke said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 7:15 pm

    Take away lesson:

    There is actually all sorts of speech which is ambiguous when one tries to transcribe based upon objective sound alone. We rely far more on context than we think to interpret the sounds that hit our ears.

    I think that there is a decent chance that the horde/whore alternative was intended as a pun-like turn of phrase that flopped due to poor delivery caused by thinking to hard about the whore version.

  15. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 7:16 pm

    This belatedly inspired me to confirm via google the happy news that one Canadian entrant on the list of Great Names For Law Firms is still around: http://www.hazzardandhore.com/.

  16. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 8:05 pm

    J. W. Brewer: It seems to me that there's a fourth possibility, which is that the ambiguity makes this story unusually newsworthy.

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