A word-switch, not a phrase-insertion: “back of the line” is an Obama rhetorical staple

23rd April 2016

The contention is being (seriously) made that President Obama’s use of “back of the queue” in a speech about Brexit shows that the phrase was inserted by his UK hosts.  This contention rests on “queue” not being a word Americans use. They use the word “line” instead.

Politicians, like all of us, tend to use rhetorical staples. And a quick search of Obama’s public statements over the last few years shows that “back of the line” is indeed one of his rhetorical staples. He seems to have used it nine times since 2013.

And not only has he used it in formal speeches, but in unscripted press conferences. It is a phrase he readily uses, and if you look at the examples, he uses it to make similar points to the one being advanced in his Brexit comments.

So all that needs to be explained is not the insertion of the phrase, but a switch of a word.

It is a word he is recorded as using anyway.  The word switch may well be his own, or from his advisors or script writers. Who knows.

But all that needs any special explanation is the word, and not the phrase.

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3 thoughts on “A word-switch, not a phrase-insertion: “back of the line” is an Obama rhetorical staple”

  1. I imagine that if I were a UK public figure on a tour of the US giving a speech to a US audience on an issue relating to US politics, I might find myself slipping into using words like cell phone or elevator without a second thought.

  2. More importantly, it shows the illusion of British importance the Leave campaign has. The idea that the US President is adapting his speech on a major policy issue to follow the recommendations of Downing Street No 10 is not so different from the idea that India, China and the US will accept a trade deal with an independent UK with gratitude and without any conditions…

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