US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud
November 4, 2006 9:57 AM   Subscribe

US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud View the most popular words in presidential speeches, from 1776 to 2006. Simply sliding the bar from year to year makes it easy to see trends over time. (via Crooked Timber)
posted by afu (27 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I was kinda wondering when this would show up here :-P

Actually, I highly considered posting it here first but having read the guidelines about not posting your own projects, I figured I'll just try reddit instead. And while Mefi Projects is a good idea, I don't think it gets enough coverage. Sorry just being a little superfluous.

I'm glad people liked it though - over 47,000 in one day!
posted by chime at 10:19 AM on November 4, 2006

Crazy how much "war" comes up throughout the entire history of presidential speeches, even during times of peace.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:24 AM on November 4, 2006

I think constitution takes the cake. It's mentioned in nearly every speech, from its inception on.
posted by bjork24 at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2006

"terror" first pops up in 1986. Starting in 2003, it's the most-used word in every speech. Interesting.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2006

Needs a trend of more "education" and less "war", IMHO.
posted by Down10 at 11:07 AM on November 4, 2006

Wow, great project, chime!
posted by muddgirl at 11:23 AM on November 4, 2006

Metafilter Chime: Best of the Web.

This is awesome.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 11:27 AM on November 4, 2006

It seems that over the last century economy/economic is the key word that ties all the speeches together. In earlier speeches there are some economic issues (agriculture (much more popular in the 19th century) imports, exports) but the word economy is seldom used. John tyler seems to be a bit fond of the exchequer. Britain/British features prominently until about 1835 and then we get caught up in our homemade problem of slavery and territories.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 11:44 AM on November 4, 2006

Very cool.

Did anyone else find it odd that in some of Thomas Jefferson's speeches, the most used word is... Jefferson? Did he speak in third-person or something?
posted by papakwanz at 12:14 PM on November 4, 2006

Now that I look at it, I notice that the speeches by the early presidents have a lot more occurrences of proper names, both their own and other people's, while there's very little of that in the modern presidents, comparatively. Wonder why...
posted by papakwanz at 12:31 PM on November 4, 2006

Yeah, that's a wonderful resource -- thanks! It's great that you link to all the speeches as well ... just spend an hour reading old ones, very interesting stuff.
posted by louigi at 12:36 PM on November 4, 2006

Did anyone else find it odd that in some of Thomas Jefferson's speeches, the most used word is... Jefferson? Did he speak in third-person or something?

I think the tag cloud is drawing from the introduction to the speech as well as the text itself.
posted by dhartung at 1:16 PM on November 4, 2006

Very, very cool. The only thing I wish was that words didn't keep popping from one line to another, making it a little less "easy to see trends over time."

Still, good link.
posted by Zephyrial at 1:36 PM on November 4, 2006

I regenerated the tag cloud ignoring the introductions in italics and the footnotes/source document information. No more Adams and Jeffersons in their own speeches & tags.

Please remember this is a personal project and not a PhD thesis so I wasn't too strict or rigorous about my data set. However, the algorithm is pretty general and would work with almost any English language dataset. My algorithm just needs ID/Header/Plain-Text for each document and will spit out the tag cloud. I hope to share the algorithm soon, once I have cleaned up the code etc.

Thanks for all the kind words.
posted by chime at 2:08 PM on November 4, 2006

posted by PhatLobley at 2:57 PM on November 4, 2006

Another interesting pattern: if you look at the pre-Bush II clouds going back through Franklin Roosevelt, during times of war or crisis the name of the threat or opponent is always hugely prominent ("Japanese" / "communists" / "Vietnam" / "Soviet", but for the most part the word "strength" is also prominent. That pattern disappears after GW's First Inaugural, where "strength" is much smaller than "terrorist".

Good material for psychohistorians here.
posted by Creosote at 3:00 PM on November 4, 2006

i *sigh* for the days when family and education were bigger than terrorists and iraq.
posted by wumpus at 3:19 PM on November 4, 2006

Wow, very neat. Thanks Chime!
posted by kosher_jenny at 4:04 PM on November 4, 2006

This is really, really neat. I'll be sending it to a few people. Thank you!
posted by anjamu at 4:56 PM on November 4, 2006

Some similar tools from days gone by.
posted by The Radish at 5:09 PM on November 4, 2006

Yeah, completely fascinating. It's amazing to see the "progression" from Indians to Germany to Communists, etc.

I noticed a weird thing. I was struck how, in the speeches of the early/mid-1960s, the word "white(s)" appears in the tag clouds, but "Negro(es)" doesn't. For instance, in JFK's "The American Promise to African Americans" (June 1963), the word "white(s)" appears three times, and the word "Negro(es)" 13 times - but "Negro(es)" doesn't show up in the tag cloud. Is there something going on, algorithmically speaking?

Thanks, Chime!
posted by rtha at 6:15 PM on November 4, 2006

And homework is.... DONE! Thanks so much for this great page!
posted by squirrel at 7:41 PM on November 4, 2006

A simple idea that creates a new way to visualize this data. Great stuff! Thanks!
posted by vacapinta at 8:37 PM on November 4, 2006

This is very cool - I think I'll be spending a bit of time here. It reminds me of a project I saw a couple of years ago in NY - Qaeda Quality Question Quickly Quiet - a splicing together in alphabetical order the words in Bush's 2002 State of the Union. Except on a much much larger and useful scale.
posted by twoporedomain at 9:19 PM on November 4, 2006

This is really neat - I noticed, too, how "economic" emerged as very important in the 20th century. Looking at the OED, it seems like the word was around, but before c.1850-1900, it was used to refer to household management, not the economy at large. You'd have to work out the synonyms appropriate to the time - like "manufactures", "liveleyhoods", etc - to look at how important economic issues were or not. That said, from just a glance at the early 19th century speeches, they do seem much more oriented on classically political issues (constitution, representation, etc) than on socio-economic issues.

I actually met someone who wrote his PhD thesis on the words used in presidential speeches, trying to understand politics and rhetoric. With this tool, I think I understand a lot more of what he was trying to tell me.
posted by jb at 6:30 AM on November 5, 2006

Interesting how "families" is huge in the Clinton speeches, and in the first speech by GWB, but after that...not so much.
posted by grum@work at 7:23 AM on November 5, 2006

Chime, neat idea. I love comparing the differences between presidents and seeing new words pop up (or completely disappear) and comparing to the president and date; a new perspective on u.s. history. Also, some presidents seem to have very few "most common words", with many words used a few times, and then some have five or ten "really used a lot over all other words". Thought it was interesting that the ones with a good spread are usually known as our more "intellectual" presidents, while those with a few really big words are the, well, not so intellectual ones.

in your disclaimers, you mention someone else designed the slider, so not sure if this is possible. but i had a lot of trouble manipulating the slider and would have found buttons on either side (click and it moves to the next speech) really helpful. i kept flying by five speeches at a time. p.s. hi st pete!
posted by mosessis at 9:13 PM on November 5, 2006

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