Is a title and is a campaign too WHAT?

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A couple of days ago, Greta van Susteren interviewed Sarah Palin on Fox ("'Maverick' Palin vs. 'Quasi Reality Show'", 9/27/2011).  Out of the whole 16-minute segment, one word got the lion's share of the coverage.  Thus Sheila Marikar, "Sarah Palin: ‘Is a Title and Campaign Too Shackle-y?’", ABC News 9/27/2011:

A Palin presidency: Too “shackle-y?”

That’s what Sarah Palin suggested on Fox News’ “On The Record with Greta VanSusteren” tonight […] “Is a title worth it?” she asked, rhetorically. “Does a title shackle a person? Are they someone like me who’s maverick? I do go rogue and I call it like I see it and I don’t mind stirring it up in order to get people to think and debate aggressively.”

“Is a title and a campaign too shackle-y?,” she continued.

Andrew Sullivan picked up the thread ("It's Not A Miss Universe Contest, Mrs Palin", 9/28/2011):

"Shackle-y" now joins "refudiate".

The Economist's Johnson Blog promptly refudiated Sullivan ("Shackle-y, sir, is no refudiate", 9/28/2011)

Andrew Sullivan […] lumped "shackle-y" with her "refudiate" moment, in which she conflated "repudiate" and "refute". They're not the same thing at all, though. Ms Palin clearly made a mistake with "refudiate".  "Shackle-y", though not in dictionaries, is the kind of thing available to English speakers with a knowledge of their language's word-building rules. Nonce coinages from squidlike to unputdownable to Vampire Weekend-esque are all allowed in English. They aren't malapropisms, any more than "malapropism" is: the word comes from a tongue-tied literary character, Mrs Malaprop, and a common English suffix, "-ism". Being able to coin words on the fly as needed, within certain rules-governed boundaries, is one of the things that makes English English, not to mention fun. I'm no fan of Ms Palin's politics, but she is interesting to watch. It's precisely things like "shackle-y" that delight her fans and drive her foes up the wall.

'Johnson' is entirely right about English morphology, but I believe that all of these articles are wrong about what Ms. Palin actually said.

Here's the relevant passage as a whole:

I'm going to keep repeating though, Greta,
through my process of decision making with my family and with my close friends as to whether I should throw my name in the hat for
the GOP
nomination or not um for twenty twelve.
Is a title
worth it? It- it-
Does a title shackle a person?
Are they- someone like me, who's maverick, you know, I do go rogue and I call it like I see it and I don't mind stirring it up in order to get people to think and debate aggressively
and- and um to find solutions to the problems that our- our country's facing.
Somebody like me,  is a title and is a campaign too shackling?
Does that prohibit me from being out there
um out of a box
not allowing handlers
to shape me and to
um force my message to be what
donors or what contributors or what political pundits want it to be?
uh- uh- does a title  take away my freedom to call it like I see it
and to affect positive change that we (('ve seen)) need in this country.
That's the biggest uh contemplation piece in my process.

Here's the crucial sentence:

Somebody like me, is a title and is a campaign too shackling?

And the crucial pair of words:

… too shackling?

It's clear that Ms. Palin says "shackling", not "shackle-y". The way that she said it is still interesting, however, even if it's not nearly as entrancingly idiosyncratic as The Economist's blogger took it to be. It's a nice example of a phenomenon discussed in an earlier LL post "Symbols and signals in g-dropping", 3/23/2011. In that case, the speaker was Tim Pawlenty, someone else whose English pronunciation hails from the upper midwest.

If you listen carefully, you'll hear that Ms. Palin pronounces "shackling" as [ˈʃæklin]. This variant of the -ing ending has the coronal nasal of the form often written -in', but it has the vowel of seen rather than the vowel of sin. As a result, it's often perceived and transcribed as the standard version of -ing — here [ˈʃæklɪŋ] — rather than as the "g-dropping" variant, which here would be [ˈʃæklɪn].

Those of you who are familiar with reading spectrograms may find this plot of "shackling" helpful — I've marked the second formant in -ing in acqua, and you can see that it's at around 2700 Hz near the nasal, whereas her KIT vowel has F2 around 1900 or 2000:

As you can also see (as well as hear), she renders the word with three syllables, with a syllabic /l/ as the nucleus of the second one.

So to sum up, Ms. Palin says "shackle-ing", not "shackle-y", but she gives the /l/ its own syllable, and pronounces the -ing with the high front vowel of lean rather than the lower and backer vowel of Lynn. And the context is one where an adjective is expected ("Is a title and is a campaign too ___?"),  so it's not surprising that someone unfamiliar with this variety of English might have transcribed it as "shackle-y".


  1. Dw said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

    It may be worth adding that in many US accents the vowel of "-ing" is often perceived to be the FLEECE vowel, rather than the KIT vowel widely used elsewhere.

  2. GeorgeW said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

    I thought her use of the word 'title' was also interesting. I presume she means 'President of the United States.' Were she elected to this position, maybe she could persuade people to refer to her as just 'Sarah' and avoid being shackled by the title.

    It also occurred to me that the title she is referring to is 'presidential candidate.'

  3. Julie said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

    This is a feature of my native Northern California speech which I've largely abandoned. The stressed form of the verbal ending -ing was pronounced "een." (The unstressed version was "in.") I don't know that I was aware that anyone pronounced it with /ɪŋ/ before I left my small town to go away to college…and learned, painfully, that I was an uneducated hick.

  4. Robert Herrick said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    I don't think I've ever seen "maverick" used as an adjective, but I kind of like it . . . .

    [(myl) As a prenominal modifier, it's pretty common: "maverick inventor", "maverick scientist", "maverick image", etc. But of course that's consistent with it remaining a noun, though the OED devotes an adj.-labelled sub-entry to cases like

    1948    Manch. Guardian Weekly 8 Jan. 4/1   A few maverick liberals.
    1984    G. Smith Eng. Compan. (1985) 23   He was an avowed homosexual, a maverick Christian, a socialist of sorts, and an inspired teacher.

    It's relatively rare to see examples in predicative positions.]

  5. Janice Byer said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

    While I don't agree with her views, I defend to the proverbial death her right to pronounce "shackling" as rhyming with "buckling", i.e. the present participle of buckle. Then again, my roots are similarly "Fargo"ish, so maybe it's an accent thang.

  6. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    I think "shackle-y" actually would have been rather "refudiate"-like, if said with the prosody and intonation that she used for "shackling": it would be too humorous a nonce-coinage to be delivered so soberly and sincerely.

    @Julie: Could you give an example of when/how you would use the stressed form? The only examples I can think of sound a bit contrived — "Did you say that she's coming, or that she's come?" — and I can't imagine having a specific pronunciation for that!

  7. D Sky Onosson said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

    I have always found it difficult to pronounce the "ing" of words like "coming", "going" with the same nasal as found in "thing", "ding", etc.

    "Bringing", or "singing", for example, have two of the same vowel, but two different nasals.

    So I guess I fall somewhere in the same range of accent as Ms. Palin.

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

    Here in the UK, the 'een' [in] pronunciation of the last syllable of a gerund-participle is common in “horsey circles”. I often hear it on TV in interviews with jockeys in horse racing.

  9. Jon Weinberg said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    Like you, I'm having a hard time figuring out the intended meaning here. It seems unlikely that Palin was saying that being President of the United States was a mere "title" that might not be "worth it". Rather, as you suggested, I think she must be saying that if she entered the race it would be in order to have the title of "presidential candidate" — that is, in order to have the platform for her views that being a candidate would give her. And then she wonders whether having that platform is worth the constraints that it would impose. But if that's how she's characterizing being a candidate — as simply a "title," a means to have her views reported by the media — then she's dismissing any possibility that she could actually win. Seems uncharacteristically self-aware . . .

  10. Ben Zimmer said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

    Perhaps Sullivan was primed to hear a "-y" form like "shackle-y" because of Palin's famous line about Obama, "How's that hopey changey stuff working out for you?" (As it happens, that line was also misheard at the time — as "hopey changing." See my LL post for more.) And then of course there's "maverick-y," from Tina Fey's impersonation of Palin.

    [(myl) I believe that Sullivan got "shackle-y" from the ABC blog transcript, both because he links to it, and also because his transcript contains at least two errors that are also found in the ABC blog transcript, namely the omission of "you know" after "maverick", and having "is a title and a campaign too …" in place of "is a title and is a campaign too …".]

  11. Spell Me Jeff said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

    Too bad she didn't say what they say she said.

    I was going to say I didn't care for shackle-y on euphonic principles.

    But then I went looking for possibly rhymes, and I hit spackle-y. I work with things like spackle when I'm not busy with my day job, and I can totally imagine myself looking at a poorly executed spackle job (which should be seamless) and saying, "Nope. Too spackley." If that can work, then spackle-y can too.

  12. Janice Byer said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

    GeorgeW, yes, her use of " a title" for a government position is, as you chivalrously put it, interesting. Prof. Liberman's link to Sully's "It's not a Miss Universe contest, Mrs. Palin" hints by way of its title, heh, that it's been marked by the blogosphere.

    My insinuating lack of charity toward what may strike others as a verbal tic from her beauty queen past is owed to my sense that it's conscious rhetoric. So far as I know, it was not until announcing her resignation from the governorship of Alaska that she used it a speech to the public.

  13. Janice Byer said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

    …and marked by "our" Ben Zimmer!

    [Memo to self: finish reading comments before posting.]

  14. John said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

    Definitely the participle, but I have to say that I wouldn't drop the g in a transcription. It's fairly clear to me, though I lack the proper vocabulary to describe it.

  15. Janice Byer said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

    Oops. I meant Jon Weinberg not Ben Zimmer. My apologies to everybody, especially Jon, Ben and Professor Liberman. I need coffeeeee

  16. Julie said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

    @Ran Ari-Gur:
    1) When being nagged: "I told you I'm coming!"
    2) When nagging. "Are you coming or not?"
    3) When becoming impatient with someone who still can't hear you. "We're getting it tomorrow!"
    4) When conversing with someone who is hard of hearing. (To avoid example 3) This is about the only example I can think of that does not involve any emotional stress, just especially careful pronunciation.

  17. J Lee said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

    she also said pundints and seems really immodest when describing her no-nonsense attitude and 'maverick' nature. also i thought the idiom was throw ones hat in the race; has she confused it with a random drawing of a name from a hat?!

    [(myl) The relevant idiom is "to throw one's hat in the ring", meaning to announce your intent to compete for some position. I believe that the phrase originally came from a practice in certain amateur boxing events — see the discussion here. You're right that "throw my name in the hat" seems to reference willingness to submit to a random drawing rather than willingness to participate in a contest of pugilistic skill.

    On the other hand, "throw one's name in the hat" has often been used by others in a similar way. Current Google News hits include:

    Now the city will begin taking applications to fill the vacancies left by Team 3's defeat. "This is the end of this phase," Coffey said. "Now the city is going to start into a recovery phase. I hope people with good interests and good motivation put their name in the hat in this process and the city will be better for it."

    The Republican Party is practically begging New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to throw his name in the hat for a 2012 Presidential run.

    Cowen, a marketing representative for RJ Reynolds, said other parents in the district contacted him when they found out about the school board opening and urged him to submit a letter of interest. “It helped to know that there were people behind me, plus I really did have an interest in it,” he said. “That’s what really pushed me to throw my name in the hat.”

    And there are also some examples of your version, "throw one's hat in the race":

    Bob Irvin of Atlanta, the former House minority leader who served in the late '90s and early 2000s, may also throw his hat in the race.

    Sue Lepisto has thrown her hat in the race for the Agoura Hills City Council, saying she wants to “serve and contribute”.

    For his part, Hecht has not officially thrown his hat in the race. “Senator Tolman is still our senator and will be until he resigns,” Hecht said.

    And there are also various other metaphorical objects being placed in various ways into other metaphorical locations or containers as a symbol of participation in some competition.]

  18. Duncan said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 1:22 am

    @ J Lee: Putting one's name in the hat may reflect her view of the luck she'd need to pull this off, which might help explain the apparent references to the title of "presidential candidate", if she thinks that realistically, that's all she'd get.

    I certainly have no claim toward being a political expert, but my take on her actions for some time has been that she wants to maintain national-stage and party visibility for the time being, racking up political favors and getting some seasoning before she tries again. Unlike some candidates, she's young enough that she doesn't have to worry about the ticking clock just yet, as she could still be around 20 years from now, and imagine the political and party favors she could have accumulated by then. Perhaps she believes the family timing will be better then as well, tho that "begs the question" (deliberate use of the demanding that the question be asked, sense) what sort of family priorities /anyone/ running on the national ticket can be said to (not) have, given the realities of the campaign rat-race.

  19. Trimegistus said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 6:30 am

    That's not what "begs the question" means. But you knew that, right?

  20. Sally Thomason said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 7:22 am

    I hear several of her other -ing forms in that clip with a velar nasal (repeating, making, facing); is that a perception error, all too likely with my non-super hearing? They don't sound to me as if they rhyme with shacklin' in the clip — primed by Mark's comments, I hear that with an alveolar nasal and the vowel of seen. But her "stirrin' it up" sounds to me as if it has the vowel of sin with the alveolar nasal, not the vowel of seen. Am I wrong on that one too? Or does she just have a lot of variation (quite possibly not more than other people, of course) in her pronunciation of non-monosyllabic -ing words?

    [(myl) My casual survey of her speech suggests that all four possibilities in the cross-product of [i], [ɪ] and [n], [ŋ] occur.]

  21. Rod Johnson said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 9:05 am

    Spare us the "begs the question" peeve derail. That battle's been fought too many times already.

    "Pundint" is interesting–I hear that kind of perseverative nasality in a lot of similar words. Palin's somewhere on a continuum from not at all to full nasalization (I've heard tomato pronounced as [t@meino] (@ = schwa), with the [ei] and [o] nasalized) many times). Once the velum goes up, it stays up. There's a lot of that kind of nearly invisible low-level phonology going on in most people's speech, but Palin's speech is so closely scrutinized that it has stopped being invisible.

    And there's a lot of other stuff going on–for instance, the vowel of box, which has a distinctive uptalk-y intonation. It almost sounds like it has acquired another mora, if you will, to accommodate the level-up pitch contour, and that has made the vowel slightly diphthongized. I'd be interested in seeing a spectrogram of that.

    (How do you do IPA symbols?)

    [(myl) One easy way is here.]

  22. J Lee said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    haha throw ones hat in the race was a typo caused by the article, but it is hilarious that there is so much variation..pity the poor immigrant who cant even trust mass media or public personalities to consistently use lame idioms.

  23. Rodger C said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

    I hear "pundint" a lot too. Besides what Ron Johnson adduces, I suspect it's also affected by words like "abundant" and "redundant."

    @Ron Johnson: IPA symbols are here:

  24. Duncan said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

    @ Trimegistus: [Re: begs the question]

    It's what it means now, in common usage, and I'm deliberately strengthening that usage. =:^) So yes, obviously I knew that.

    See the articles right here on LL, and on wikipedia/wictionary, etc. (I was going to say recent articles, but now that I think of it, I'm not sure if the articles I read were googled up, thus older, or from the LL feed, thus newer, or both, but in any case, I was reading them within the last 30 days.)

    That's why I specifically said "deliberately". I'm deliberately supporting current common usage with my own usage, since none of the alternative phrases have exactly the same nuanced meaning, "ask" is too weak as is "invite", "demand" is too strong, "beg" is (with a nod to Goldilocks) "just right." But with both meanings available (and both ultimately mistaken, in some form, see below) and the now common one so often scorned, I've found it necessary to note the deliberate and intended meaning regardless of which meaning I intend. But I still use the term, especially the now-common meaning, deliberately adding my own usage to the overall statistics.

    Meanwhile, note that at least as the LL articles on the subject states it (I know neither Latin nor Greek so simply rely on LL, here, I assume others can google as well as I can so won't bother posting the links), the traditional/legal sense (both sub-senses) is based on an arguably incorrect translation, going back to the Latin import from Greek, as well. The English translation is arguably a faithful translation of the Latin, but the Latin is not an absolutely faithful translation of the Greek, hence the problem. Since reading that I now imagine the same debate happening centuries ago in a Latin context. =:^/

  25. Rod Johnson said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

    Thanks for the IPA help, folks.


  26. Jonathan said,

    October 1, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

    I think she was talking about life peerage.

  27. Rodger C said,

    October 1, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

    Sorry, Rod. I've joined the ~90% of LL commenters who call me Roger.

    And I should have mentioned "pendant."

  28. Joe said,

    October 3, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

    Shackling or shackly, this woman is an idiot. Why do you go out of your way to defend right-wing politicians?

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