Stupid keeps it simple

Research out of the US this week reveals some interesting analysis on Donald Trump.

While most of us don’t care much for what he says, it turns out it’s how he says it that is significant.

The researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University Language Technologies Institute (LTI) analysed the language and grammar used in several presidential candidates’ speeches.

Trump’s grammar corresponds with that of an 11-year-old (or sixth-grader). And his vocabulary matches the words understood by a typical 12-year-old.

As a copywriter, I understand the merit of keeping a message simple. Use language that will not confuse or intimidate. Avoid jargon and use words that most people will understand.

But Donald Trump is taking the ‘keep it simple stupid’ adage to a new low.

I doubt this is a deliberate tactic of his and instead just a characteristic that comes naturally. But without doubt, it has helped his message cut through.

Only the speeches of George W Bush were ranked lower on grammatical correctness at fifth-grade level. And presidents Lincoln, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama significantly out-scored Trump on vocabulary.

The Boston Globe ran the Flesch-Kincaid readability test (a calculation of word choice and sentence structure) across Trump’s campaign launch speech.

In that speech he said, “How stupid are our leaders? How stupid are they?”

From his blunt, basic language, the Globe found Trump speech could be understood by a fourth-grader. That’s a 9-year-old kid. And 9-year-olds don’t vote.

Trump speaks in punchy words that are easy to grasp, yet lack context and substance. Every thing’s ‘huge’ and ‘nasty’ or ‘terrible’. And pathetic.

By using simple language Trump is making it easier to be understood by the masses. He might be easy to understand. But the hard part is listening to him.