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Here's an unexpected factoid from the transcripts of the 21 debates held so far in the current U.S. presidential campaign: Despite his "Make America Great Again" slogan, Donald Trump uses the words America and American almost 13 times less often than Bernie Sanders does.

In the table below, the first number in each column is the number of times that the candidate in question used the cited word in the 12 Republican and 9 Democratic debates; the second number (in parentheses) is the frequency per million words.

            America   American   Americans    TOTAL
Clinton    50  (877)  76 (1334)  58 (1018)  184 (3229)
Cruz       63 (1929)  57 (1746)  31  (949)  151 (4624)
Kasich     78 (2711)  18  (626)  15  (521)  111 (3858)
Sanders   112 (2211) 123 (2428)  30  (592)  265 (5232)
Trump      13  (317)   2   (49)   2   (49)   17  (414)

Adding up the frequency of America and American, we get 4639 for Sanders and 366 for Trump. Throwing in Americans, we get 5232 for Sanders and 414 for Trump.

In graphical form:

If you had asked me to guess, I wouldn't have ranked Trump as (by far!) the least Americanizing of the candidates, or put Sanders on top of that pile.



  1. Avinor said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 9:36 am

    It is unfortunate that factoid in English seems to be losing its original meaning of statement widely believed to be true, but that actually is false. (By the way, Swedish faktoid, a loanword from English, retains the original meaning.)

    [(myl) As others have pointed out further along in the comments, factoid has both senses "An item of information accepted as a fact, although not (or not necessarily) true" and "A brief or trivial piece of information". This makes sense since the derivational affix -oid is glossed as "Forming adjectives with the sense ‘having the form or nature of, resembling, allied to’, and nouns with the sense ‘something having the form or appearance of, something related or allied in structure, but not identical’" — something could "have the form or nature of a fact … but not identical" by virtue of being not entirely true, or by virtue of being so trivial as to be a sort of sub-fact, or both.

    In this particular case I had both meanings in mind, since the implication that Trump doesn't often refer to "America" is misleading if not false — he achieves similar referential goals using pronouns ("you", "we") or other expressions (for example he uses "border" and "borders" much more frequently than any of the other candidates except Cruz).]

  2. Martin Ball said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 9:40 am

    Mhmmm, for me it's always meant small and unimportant fact.

  3. D.O. said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 10:01 am

    If we need to invent a story to go with the data, maybe it is because Sanders's is a policy-oriented campaign, while Trump's is personality oriented (to go on a tangent, Trump is proposing quite a bit of policy change, but his personality is as much, or even more important selling point).

    By the way, what happened with the project of figuring out whose, among the presidential candidates, speech is closer to "average American"? COCA has a very good lemma frequency list with distinctions between parts of speech, but then someone needs to run the scripts through a lemmalizer (is that a word?)

  4. Rodger C said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 10:28 am


  5. Bob Ladd said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    I agree with Martin Ball about the meaning of factoid.

  6. JS said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

    Trump simply hasn't developed the mind-numbing patriot-speak rhetorical tics of your standard American politician. He has other ones.

  7. Asa said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

    Small typo: in the first sentence after the table of numbers, you've got Americans where you want American.

  8. Rod Johnson said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 2:51 pm

    Wikipedia sez factoid was coined by Norman Mailer in 1973, meaning "piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact even though it’s not actually true, or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print." YMMV

  9. Bob Ladd said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 3:48 pm

    @Rod Johnson: If Wikipedia says it, it may well be true. I seem to recall Jim McCawley talking about "Greekoid" restaurants in Chicago, clearly suggesting a common meaning of "widely accepted as X even though it's not X". I'm also pretty sure I've heard -oid attached to other adjectives to suggest "not really [Adj]". So maybe factoid really did start life that way. But I still agree with Martin Ball.

    Maybe MYL can figure out a way to extract which meaning was intended in early uses of the word – it's certainly not as easy to search for meanings as it is to search for forms.

  10. Viseguy said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 3:50 pm

    OED on factoid:

    1. An item of information accepted as a fact, although not (or not necessarily) true; spec. an assumption or speculation reported and repeated so often as to be popularly considered true; a simulated or imagined fact.

    2. Chiefly Journalism and Broadcasting. A brief or trivial piece of information, esp. any of a list of such items presented together.

  11. Bob Ladd said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

    Follow-up: without waiting for MYL's input, I went to Google n-grams and looked at the relatively few citations in their corpus from the period 1970-1997. It's very clear that the first OED meaning (thanks, Viseguy!) is the original (attributed in a couple of quotes to Norman Mailer, but also to "someone" in at least one quote). The meaning that Martin Ball and I took as given seems to have come into existence in the mid-1990s.

  12. Rod Johnson said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 6:34 pm

    That's pretty much the Wikipedia story, which ascribes the new meaning to CNN Headline News.

  13. AntC said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 7:07 pm

    I believe previous of Mark's analyses have identified that Trump uses China far more than other candidates. Also possibly Mexico/ans.

    Can we compare usage of other geopolitically significant words/phrases?

    My impression is that Trump spends far more of his speeches dissing others than making any positive statements (or any policy at all come to that). Can we characterise the mentions of these geopolities as positive/negative? (Probably it'll elude ngrams: Trump is usually snide/ironic/oblique – I won't say it but you know what I mean.)

    And China, Mexico are his targets for dissing.

    OTOH does the sector of the electorate who Trump is trying to attract actually identify as principally American, or rather do they identify more locally? Trump seems to frequently mention particular States or cities. Compare that few people identify as European, despite Europe being in many ways more compact and culturally homogeneous than the U.S.

  14. Jon said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 2:08 am

    AntC: I disagree with your statement that few people identify as European. I know plenty of people who include European among their identities, including the front-runner in the race for London's next Mayor, in a radio interview yesterday (he is Muslim, and was stressing his multicultural identity as a match for London's multiculturalism with a long list of his own identities). Few would put it first – I might say British, English, European, Anglo-Saxon, scientist, atheist, …

  15. Bob Ladd said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 2:50 am

    @AntC: What Jon said, but I also disagree with your statement that Europe is more culturally homogeneous than the US ("compact", well, yes). Lots of people do identify as European, but the cultural differences run deep, and there are still lots of people in Europe who have seldom (or even never) been outside the country they were born in. The existence of multiple languages is still a major barrier to mobility and cultural integration that hardly affects the US, despite the steady spread of English as the default L2.

  16. Riikka said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 3:01 am

    I think I would agree with AntC. There isn't often a reason to add European among one's identities – unless it's to point out I don't belong to any other continent or area (Middle East or either of Americas, in my case), and I don't expect the person I'm communicating with to know geography very well. The reason why the mayor Jon mentioned would add European is the other one, to stress the European unity, which in my opinion hasn't been very unified lately, with questions about Grexit, PortuGo and Brexit, refugee crisis, religionism (struggle about marriage laws, islamophobia) and whatnot on the table. Of course there still is legal cooperation e.g. in having sensible labor laws and human rights (as opposed to Qatari de facto slavery and USAmerican habit of paying wages one doesn't survive on), but in every other area there's a lot of diversity. And Nordic cooperation had established those legal matters, and much else, even before EEC/EU was created.

    I identify as Finnish and Nordic – or "Scandinavian", though geographically Finland isn't part of Scandinavian peninsula – but because very few know what or where Nordic countries are, and when even Swedes don't seem to remember the existence of Finland, it's usually easier to just put "European" instead.

  17. Brett said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 7:42 am

    @Bob Ladd: The notion of true "factoids" dates to the early 1980s, at least. 3-2-1 Contact magazine had a two page feature of strange but true facts titled "Factoids" when I was first given a subscription (October 1983, I think).

    When I was in elementary school, I really loved that magazine, but as the parent 3-2-1 Contact television withered and disappeared, some of the magazine's regular features changed in odd (and, I thought, saddening) ways. I finally asked my parents to cancel my subscription when I realized that the Bloodhound Gang stories were clearly being written by people who had never watched the original Bloodhound Gang episodes on the TV show.

  18. Mr Punch said,

    April 24, 2016 @ 11:05 am

    Agree with Brett; I associate the origin of "true" factoids with USA Today (launched 1982), which made heavy use of them.

  19. Terry Hunt said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 8:26 am

    @ Riikka
    ". . . even Swedes don't seem to remember the existence of Finland . . ."
    I thought they remember it very well, but for historical reasons are embarrassed about mentioning it.

  20. Terry Hunt said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 8:27 am

    @ Riikka
    ". . . even Swedes don't seem to remember the existence of Finland . . ."
    I thought they remember it very well, but for historical reasons are embarrassed about mentioning it.

    (I'll be visiting Finland next year, so I'll have the opportunity to find out at first hand!)

  21. BZ said,

    April 25, 2016 @ 9:33 am

    My first encounter with the word "factoid" was on CNN (or maybe Headline News, now HLN) where they would display a fact that was little known and of little importance with that heading before and/or after some commercial breaks. I've only encountered the "not true" meaning in the last 5 years or so.

  22. Graeme said,

    April 26, 2016 @ 8:44 am

    Perhaps Simon n Garfunkel are to blame.

    Also, just possibly – what if nationalists tended to use 'we'. And the internationalist (or more consciously educated) candidates used 'America' because they either saw 'America' as a construct, or were more formal?

  23. David Scott Marley said,

    April 27, 2016 @ 11:42 am

    Is this the place to gripe about constructions like "almost 13 times less often than"? Or should I take that over to Numbers Notes?

  24. David Scott Marley said,

    April 27, 2016 @ 11:54 am

    My recollection matches Mr. Punch's: I first became aware of the word factoid in USA Today, where it seemed to mean a small, isolated fact, the sort of thing that one might encounter in a game of trivia. (And trivia games — Trivial Pursuit and its hundreds of imitators — were very big then.)

    It was only much later that it occurred to me that the -oid suffix was wrong. Personally, I like <emfactette even better than factlet, but realistically at this point neither is going to catch on and take the place of factoid.

  25. David Scott Marley said,

    April 27, 2016 @ 11:55 am

    Oops. Make that factette.

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