Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Nov 7 05:19:56 UTC 2010

On Sat, Nov 6, 2010 at 11:40 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â Re: shellacking
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 3:48 PM, Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at> wrote:
>> "African American" features of Obama's speech? Â They are not inconsiderable, it seems to me.
> I'm of the same opinion, a fact that I find somewhat surprising, given
> that he didn't really "live black" till he moved to Chicago. Contrast
> Obama's speech-patterns to those of Colin Powell, who has always lived
> black. Of course, Powell has surely had as much occasion *as an adult*
> to find himself the only black in a gathering of whites as has Obama.
> But, Obama didn't spend his childhood entirely in the society of
> blacks, as Powell did.
> Yet, if I didn't already know better, were someone to play me tapes of
> the speech of these men, then ask me to name the one that was born in
> Hawaii and spent his childhood in Hawaii and the South Pacific as
> opposed to the one that was born and grew up in New York City, I
> wouldn't hesitate:
> Harlem : goss t'be Obama, f'sho
> Hawaii  : clearly, the choice is Powell, without a doubt
> --
> -Wilson

Hi Wilson,

In his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, Obama doesn't really talk
about his own speech patterns and his accent, but it's something that
I was wondering about as I was reading it. When he became a community
organizer, and even before, Obama made a conscious effort to assert
(to revindicate, as the French would put it) to himself and to those
around him his identity as a black American. I suspect that he made
both a conscious and an unconscious effort to sound more black.

The link you sent us the other day was very interesting. I am a big
fan of Obama's, despite my deep disappointment with his expansion of
the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and the concomitant increase in
civilian casualties), but I think one of his greatest achievements was
this book. No other American president, and very few politicians
anywhere in the world, have written so beautifully and so powerfully
about their coming of age.

I wish I'd followed this thread from the beginning, because I've
missed most of it. Until last month, I hadn't heard the word
"shellacking" more than a couple of times in the previous decade. In
the two weeks leading up to the election I heard it several times on
the radio and read it several times in print. So I wasn't surprised to
hear Obama pick up a word that was in the electoral air.


Paul Frank
Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
Espace de l'Europe 16
Neuchâtel, Switzerland
paulfrank at
paulfrank at

The American Dialect Society -

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