Trent Reznor Prize nomination: Mark Steyn

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We inaugurated "The Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding" back in 2005 to honor this inspired effort:

When I look at people that I would like to feel have been a mentor or an inspiring kind of archetype of what I'd love to see my career eventually be mentioned as a footnote for in the same paragraph, it would be, like, Bowie.

While I don't think that we've actually ever gotten around to awarding the prize again, we've nominated other candidates intermittently over the years. The latest to deserve nomination is Mark Steyn, for his channeling of Mitt Romney in "The Man Who Gave Us Newt", National Review 1/22/2012 (emphasis added):

Why is the stump speech so awful? "I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love." Mitt paid some guy to write this insipid pap. And he paid others to approve it. Not only is it bland and generic, it's lethal to him in a way that it wouldn't be to Gingrich or Perry or Bachmann or Paul because it plays to his caricature — as a synthetic, stage-managed hollow man of no fixed beliefs. And, when Ron Paul's going on about "fiat money" and Newt's brimming with specifics on everything (he was great on the pipeline last night), Mitt's generalities are awfully condescending: The finely calibrated inoffensiveness is kind of offensive.

This is a far from an exact paraphrase of the passages about believing in America from Gov. Romney's stump speech, much less a direct quote. And based on the description in a New York Times article by  Ashley Parker ("Romney's Stump Speech Evolved Over Time", NYT 1/3/2012), it seems unlikely to approximate earlier versions any more closely. But as a loose caricature, it artfully embodies Steyn's evaluation of Romney's stump speech as a rhetorically complex way to say very little.

Showing only the clausal embedding, here's the tree:

Three levels of clausal embedding is unusual — neither Abraham Lincoln nor George W. Bush achieved it in their inaugural addresses, and even George Washington accomplished it less than 1% of the time. And it's especially impressive to accomplish this in only 21 words, which is just about the average length of sentences these days in serious political speeches such as inaugural addresses.

Here are our other earlier TRP posts. "Trent Reznor Prize nomination", 2/23/2006:

I'd hate to make payin' a man an idiotic sum of money to burn my wife into a fine powder and stick her in a $400 bowlin' trophy 'cuz she requested it into somethin' weird.

"Another Trent Reznor Award Nominee", 3/8/2006:

Earlier, already changed into his suit, Lindros had stepped right into the showers, there to have a private word with Tie Domi, who on this evening had been feted for a thousand games in the NHL, his mother, so disapproving of how he played the sport, endlessly worried about her son, finally lured into attending a game, Domi offering his own tender tribute to a father long deceased.

"Trent Reznor Prize, RNR Division", 4/5/2008:

[I]t is nonetheless tempting to speculate about whether there exists — and, if so, what the properties are, of — a universal grammar of combat.

"Two candidates for the Trent Reznor Prize", 6/27/2011:

A penguin chick that was hand-reared by zoo keepers in Devon who used a puppet to impersonate an adult dies.

[H]e callously instructed his lawyers to add to her family's pain by implying the 13-year-old ran away because she was unhappy at home during days of cross examination.



27 Comments

  1. Lukys said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 6:59 am

    We need Lojban, or brackets around clauses as a legitimate form of punctuation.

  2. diogenes said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 7:03 am

    How about this?

    Boswell reports that Samuel Johnson was ambivalent about being called "Doctor", preferring to be thought a gentleman, and adopting exactly the same French phrase, 'un gentilhomme comme un autre', as Voltaire reported from Congreve, though he more than once retold Voltaire's story to Congreve's discredit.

  3. Jason said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    I've always felt we needed sarcasm quotes for satirical paraphrases of this sort. Absent your context, I might have interpreted that as a real statement from Romney – god knows politicians have delivered pablum just as inane. Remember this is how "Who among us does not love NASCAR?" went from a sarcastic psuedo-quote invented by Maureen Dowd and attributed to John Kerry, to a real quotation used against him — which Dowd was more than happy to allow to happen. It's not fair to just make up quotes and insert them in Romney's mouth, even if you're trying to illustrate the general vacuity of his message.

    [(myl) I agree. At first I read Mark Steyn's piece as asserting that the quote was real Romney, or at least accurately paraphrased Romney, rather than a broad-brush caricature of Romney, and I went through several transcripts and videos of Romney stump speeches looking for it. I guess it could still turn out that the real thing is Out There somewhere, but at this point I'm pretty sure it's a parodic fabrication.]

  4. buford puser said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 8:05 am

    "I got to make lots of dough to juice the guys I got to juice in order to make lots of dough to juice the guys I got to juice."

    Gangster "Mendy" Menedndez, Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, ch. 11

  5. Faldone said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 8:21 am

    OK. What did he really say?

    [(myl) A link in the original post takes you to a video and transcription of Mitt Romney's stump speech, as delivered a few weeks ago in New Hampshire. (If that's what you're looking for…)]

  6. Carl said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 8:38 am

    I think he was trying to say "I believe in the America that millions of Americans believe in", but messed it up, tried to say it a second time, and messed that up too.

  7. Mark Etherton said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 8:40 am

    '"Then, instead of expensive mouthwash, he had breathed on Hogg-Enderby, bafflingly (for no banquet would serve, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions.'

    Anthony Burgess

  8. Elliott P said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    Mark Steyn is NR's resident satirist. As someone who reads him regularly, I knew right away that this wasn't a true quote.

    That being said, however, I could see how someone unacquainted with him could reach that conclusion. The answer? Read more Steyn!

  9. Trimegistus said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    It's satire. Mark Steyn is a humorous political commentator. He's exaggerating the plonking vapidity of political speechifying. You all should read him; he's good. But this is not a Romney quote, and it's baffling to me that anyone should think it was.

    [(myl) I do read him regularly — that's how I saw this. And when I first read the quote, my reaction was "Huh? Surely Romney never said this…" But the setting of this satirical pretended quote is not, as far as I can recall, typical for Steyn; and he does sometimes use genuine quotations, after all. So I thought at least it would turn out to be a close paraphrase, condensed into a single sentence, of something Romney had said at greater length and in a less obviously circular way. But in fact it turns out to be a broader caricature than that.]

  10. F said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    Trimegistus: "But this is not a Romney quote, and it's baffling to me that anyone should think it was."

    Well, "Mitt paid some guy to write this insipid pap. And he paid others to approve it." strongly suggests to me that the text was at least intended for a speech, even if never delivered as part of one. So if that's not the case, then Steyn is intentionally misleading his readers.

  11. Spell Me Jeff said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    One of those things where you think, if it isn't true, it should be.

  12. Geraint Jennings said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    So presumably the guy Mitt paid to write it was Ben Trovato?

    [(myl) Well, either him or else his cousin Davvero Incasinato.]

  13. Dan Lufkin said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

    The GOP is preparing to run a mass clinical trial on Poe's law later this year, so we'd better get used to this sort of thing.

  14. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

    For extra credit, try diagramming "the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves to love the love that loves to love the love that loves," which is one transcription (I haven't collated sources, but I wouldn't be surprised if not all transcribers are in complete accord on the details) of part of Van Morrison's song "Madame George." Which I would rather listen to than anything Trent Reznor has recorded . . . Maybe the lesson is that all of those academic-journal examples about how many times you can string "buffalo" together would seem less forced if they had a good rhythm section behind them?

  15. Furry Canary said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

    Any time you want to, you can turn me on to anything you want to, any time at all.

  16. Not R said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

    "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Inigo Montoya, William Goldman, The Princess Bride (screenplay)

  17. ENKI-2 said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

    The Romney paraphrase deserves the award, on account of being not only tricky and reflexive but also mutually recursiveh

  18. Rubrick said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

    The putative quote is actually a much cleverer bit of empty nonsense than I would expect from the real Romney.

  19. Roger Lustig said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 11:05 pm

    @Geraint and myl: it was probably his sister Nona Vero.

  20. Theo Vosse said,

    January 25, 2012 @ 1:32 am

    There is a difference with the Reznor quote though: Romney's quote is strictly right-branching, where Reznor's is truly embedded, and has a coordination to boot. I'd say Romney didn't beat Trent, who now will be presented as the next Republican candidate…

  21. brdo said,

    January 25, 2012 @ 4:38 am

    I think it was written by Kay Skifo.

  22. Will Watts said,

    January 25, 2012 @ 4:50 am

    There was a Monty Python spoof of 'Any Questions' which might have served as Stein's inspiration. It went something like this:

    'Right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired. I'm not, and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am.'

  23. Will Watts said,

    January 25, 2012 @ 4:51 am

    Ooops s/Stein/Steyn/

  24. Malcolm Kronby said,

    February 4, 2012 @ 12:23 am

    Mitt's father once said, " I didn't say that I didn't say it. I said that I didn't say that I said it."

  25. Sebastian Nebel said,

    February 24, 2012 @ 9:19 am

    Terribly late to this, sorry, but I just heard something in a song that I think might fit here? It's a line from Train's "Counting Airplanes" (2003) and goes:
    "I got friends that ride into the storm and ride out of the storm with nothing they rode into the storm with."

  26. Andrew Koenig said,

    June 30, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

    "How can what only yesterday was now be now already only yesterday?" –Piet Hein

  27. Rob Ramcharan said,

    June 30, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

    It's nice that somebody still knows how to diagram sentences. Back when Clinton was President, we used to HAVE to.

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