Here’s an interesting – and visual – way of looking at the recent conference speeches by Gordon Brown and David Cameron. I visited the Wordle website and pasted the text of each speech into the Wordle “word cloud” generator. The word clouds it creates give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.
The word “people” figures prominently in both speeches as does the word “country”, though Brown uses the word “Britain” even more. “Change” is another word common to both speeches, as too are words like “make”, “party”, “NHS”, “want” and “government”.
The high frequency of words like “got”, “get”, “make”, “think”, “want” in Cameron’s word cloud offers us a practical insight into why he is regarded as a much better speaker and communicator than Brown. As his word cloud shows, like all good speakers, Cameron generally prefers to use good old English words rather than their Latinate cousins. For instance, he’d probably “get” something rather than “acquire” it; and “think” rather than “cogitate” or “ruminate”.
Brown, on the other hand, loves long, Latinate words, which is hardly surprising given his academic bent. But the love of Latinate words is a fatal addiction for the public speaker because Latinate words tend to be long, complex and abstract – the kind of words that cool are relationship with an audience, not a warm it up. Gordon Brown would do well to follow George Orwell’s advice: “never use a long word where a short one will do; and never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon word if you can think of an everyday equivalent.”