Friday, October 5, 2012

changes in referential phrasing in presidential debates

During Wednesday night's presidential debate, @Fritinancy tweeted a quip that got my eye:


She caught on to the fact that Mitt Romney used a variation of the name of The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, often referred to as Simpson-Bowles, but also as Bowles-Simpson.

This piqued my lingo interests so I downloaded the CNN transcript and dug up some fascinating facts.

It is Mitt Romney who first introduces the term Bowles-Simpson and Obama follows his lead, but then Jim Lehrer introduces the Simpson-Bowles variation and Romney follows his lead...until he doesn't. Obama never used the Simpson-Bowles version and Lehrer never used the Bowles-Simpson version.

Here are all instances of the term from the debate:

21:21:38: ROMNEY: …And so what I do is I bring down the tax rates, lower deductions and exemptions, the same idea behind Bowles-Simpson, by the way, get the rates down, lower deductions and exemptions, to create more jobs, because there's nothing better for getting us to a balanced budget than having more people working, earning more money, paying more taxes.

21:28:37: OBAMA:… Governor ROMNEY earlier mentioned the Bowles-Simpson commission. Well, that's how the commission -- bipartisan commission that talked about how we should move forward suggested we have to do it, in a balanced way with some revenue and some spending cuts.

21:31:34: LEHRER: Governor, what about Simpson-Bowles? Do you support Simpson-Bowles?
21:31:34: ROMNEY: Simpson-Bowles, the president should have grabbed that.
21:31:35: LEHRER: No, I mean, do you support Simpson-Bowles?
21:31:36: ROMNEYI have my own plan. It's not the same as Simpson-Bowles. But in my view, the president should have grabbed it. If you wanted to make some adjustments to it, take it, go to Congress, fight for it.

22:11:10: ROMNEY… That's one way one could do it. One could follow Bowles-Simpson as a model and take deduction by deduction and make differences that way.

I can't help but be reminded of the classic Krauss and Weinheimer (1964) experiments Changes in reference phrases as a function of frequency of usage in social interaction. I can't find the paper online, but it involves two participants converging on a shared (typically short) form of a name for an unknown new object.

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