Ron Paul is the number-one member of the House of Representatives in the matter of diversity of vocabulary. I know this because I came across information about the words used in the halls of Congress from a blogger named Don Kozikowski. Mr. Kozikowski says his diversity score is based on how frequently one of the 3,393 different words that might be found on the SAT are used in a representative’s speech (compared to common words such as “are,” “they,” or “with”).
Among representatives, Mr. Paul is only eighth, however, on something Mr. Kozikowski calls the “sesquipedalian index,” or S.P.Q.D. This is described as an aggregate measure combining diversity with the actual number of SAT words used. That top distinction goes to Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, who has been in Congress since 1995 and has used 1,178 SAT words. (In case you’re wondering, in the House, Mr. Paul is one of only three Republicans on Mr. Kozikowski’s top 10 list; in the Senate, the top 10 are pretty evenly spread between the parties.)
Ms. Lee graduated from Yale and has a law degree from the University of Virginia . . . which reminds me of Rick Santorum.
Mr. Santorum’s use of language isn’t reported in the S.P.Q.D. tabulations of senators’ speech-making styles, I gather, because he was not part of the top 100 in terms of breadth of vocabulary. Mr. Santorum has more degrees than Ms. Jackson — and it could certainly be said that he has a, let’s say, flair for language. But he nevertheless has called President Obama a snob for suggesting that every one of America’s children should go to college. Maybe the president uses too many $10 words.
Mr. Kozikowski used several sources in studying how our legislators speak, among them Capitol Words, a Web site of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that says its goal is “to make government transparent, accountable, and responsible.” Unlike Wikileaks, which broke barriers to disseminate what the government wanted to keep secret, Sunlight relies on the Congressional Record and other public documents. Capitol Words offers an A.P.I., or “application programming interface,” which Mr. Kozikowski used for his analysis, and the foundation offers something called Sunlight Labs Congress A.P.I.
I’m not quite sure I understand what an A.P.I. is, but apparently it’s something sophisticated people use for sophisticated research.
Through Mr. Kozikowski, we now also know 50 words that Republicans and 50 words that Democrats in Congress have used only once since 1996, when data from the Congressional Record began going into cyberspace. The 50 words used only once on the Republican list include some fairly common ones (“mealy-mouthed,” “vegetate,” and “kinsfolk”), as well as some obscure ones (“Achillean,” “homologous,” and “ramify”). The Democrats’ once-used list also includes the familiar (“photoelectric,” “furrier,” and “brooch”) and the relatively arcane (“secant,” “volant,” and “repine”).
I noted with interest that Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine who recently announced her intention to leave the Senate, is credited with the only use of “fishmonger.” The only member to use the word “negligee” in all those years was a former Republican member of the House, Robert Dornan of California. Given the context, I have to wonder if perhaps what he was trying to say was “negligent.”