Dear Rep. Quigley: right back at ya, re: Sunlight’s congressional speech study


Dear Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL):

With this post, I offer my humble appreciation that you should deign to take to the House floor to, as you so eloquently say, “decry an ignominy perpetuated on this Body by the captious Sunlight Foundation.”

The ignominy you refer to, the findings that you deem “fatuous,”  sir, are those from our recent study, the one in which we found that Congressional speech had dropped a full grade level since 2005, prompting much discussion as to whether Congress is indeed, as we say in the popular parlance, “dumbing it down.”

I must admit, sir, your clever references do sparkle and shine:

So if the Sunlight Foundation must lampoon our verbal buffoonery, reducing us to linguistic lummoxes, remember Cecil Terwilliger’s immortal retort to his brother Sideshow Bob’s comment about spending four years in clown college: “I’ll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way.”

Consider me besotted, bemused, and bewitched by your rapier wit (not to mention your fulsome GRE-worthy lexicon).

But, I will not go on long. Rather, to borrow from Polonious, “since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”

Sir, we ran your speech through the Flesch-Kincaid calculator. Grade level: 9.858. 334 words, 560 syllables, 23 sentences.

Your speech is a mix of high and low discourse, but it does expose some of the brute force of the F-K test. The test makes no accounting for all your fancy words (zeitgeist, badinage, schadenfreude, priapistic, salubrious). They are all just words with syllables. As we warned in the original post: “It is important to understand the limitations of this metric: it tells us nothing about the clarity or correctness of a passage of text.”

Or rather, in the eternal words of our apparently shared favorite philosopher, Homer Simpson, “I am so smart, I am so smart, s-m-r-t… I mean s-m-A-r-t.”