Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Classic American Word Salad

If you felt confused after watching Sarah Palin’s resignation speech on Friday, it’s probably because you were supposed to. The type of meandering, disjointed, excited speech patterns that she used are typical of a person who is trying to obscure her true motivations, not reveal them. These are the elements of an anti-speech, a miscommunication, red herrings tossed out to throw the audience off track.

In the parlance of the on-line support groups that I moderated for several years, her speech was classic American Word Salad, just in time for our picnics.

We’d borrowed the term ‘word salad’ from psychology, where it’s used to refer to the nonsensical syllabic sounds that schizophrenics sometimes substitute for real words. In the support groups we used the term a little differently. One of the important tasks in the group was to learn to recognize when a person was trying to control our opinion by confusing us, and for short hand we called it ‘word salad.’

It isn’t necessarily intentional; people often use word salad when they themselves are confused about their own true motives.

And word salad can be revealing once you know how to parse it. The details vary from person to person, but in general, just flip everything over and turn it inside out. Reasons given are for the benefit of the audience. These are the things that the speaker feels you’ll accept as valid or even desirable, the things she thinks you want to hear. Keep in mind the broad appeal of concepts such as ‘sacrificing for the family’ or hailing the troops, or sports analogies. These are American cultural values that are guaranteed to provoke emotional responses, at least in the members of the audience who matter most to the speaker.

Watch out too for the the things the speaker condemns. Sometimes condemnation reveals clues to what the speaker is actually doing or considering doing. You’ve experienced this, right? It’s confusing when you find out that a person you know has done the exact thing that he’d previously criticized others for doing.

Only time will tell what Sarah Palin’s real motivations and intentions are but try not to put too much credence into the reasons she gave.

A speech like that one isn’t meant to enlighten you.