Juliette Kayyem’s telling favorite words: ‘now’, ‘just’, and ‘new’

Most of politics is about words. As interest increases in Juliette Kayyem’s campaign for governor, I decided one way to get to know her was through an analysis of every word she wrote while she was a columnist for the Boston Globe from late 2011 until mid-2013. Unlike her speeches and books, her columns are exclusively her words and the ideas were of her own choosing. I think this is a good way of getting to know her priorities, passions, and style of communication.

I read her work sporadically while she was at the Globe, and I perused about 20 of these pieces during this exercise. However, I am not going to weigh in on her political views. Instead, I am going to show the results of putting all of her work through two kinds of tools: first, a “word cloud” tool that does a count of all meaningful words (so not “the”, “and”, “this” etc.) and renders the most popular according to how often they are used (larger is higher frequency). These clouds have become more common on the Internet, but they often don’t have much value as they are usually based on a single article or speech. But for larger pieces of text by a single author (like the 72,182 words of Kayyem in the Boston Globe) they do have value.

The second kind of tool analyzes the text for a variety of technical characteristics. I will use two scores. First will be grade-school reading level: 12.0 = 12th grade. (In the world of words, this is the Gunning-Fog Index.) The other characteristic I will use is “lexical density” which I would say is efficiency in writing. One definition is here. Note that speech is usually less dense than writing.

The Source Material

The Boston Globe’s content management system was of no help at all in gathering her work, but I eventually came up with 117 pieces, almost all individual columns, and a few stand-alone blurbs that were meant to start discussion threads that were not columns themselves. The list is at the bottom of this article.

Also, I decided to do some comparison of her work to a dozen columns each of the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. It isn’t that she is competing with them, but sometimes clouds and statistics are hard to appreciate if you don’t have anything to compare them to. Jacoby is a good comparison because he is a Republican, but works at the same newspaper. Kristof is a Democrat who works at a different newspaper, and often writes about international affairs, as Kayyem does. I decided those two choices would show that these analyses provide very different results for different writers.

(Note I didn’t take large samples of Jacoby and Kristof as I was not trying to evaluate them in full. Therefore, these results are not a solid account of their writing.)

First, let’s do the word clouds. I will include a few different styles for Kayyem that have the same underlying content.

 

Juliette Kayyem: 72,182 words

Jeff Jacoby: 5,248 words

Nicholas Kristof: 5,314 words

 

Now, let’s do the text analysis:

Juliette Kayyem

Lexical density: 21.9%
Grade level: 9.8 

Her favorite 20 words, in order, all used more than 100 times each: 

now, just, new, those, what, war, should, united, states, may, even, our, much, them, women, Obama, like, too, people, military

Jeff Jacoby

Lexical density: 52.7%
Grade level: 10.4

His favorite words: (‘them’ was not included in the word cloud)

them, public, states, new, many, political, what, percent, years

Nicholas Kristof

Lexical density: 48.5%
Grade level: 8.6

His favorite words: 

people, it’s, like, states, family, girls, said, him, years

 

Final Thoughts

Can we draw any conclusions from this analysis? First, while the context is political, I did not do this to help or harm her campaign. (I happen to be a loyal Baker supporter. I really don’t consider this opposition research, per se, though I would find it interesting for Baker to question Kayyem in a debate about her word choices!) I am a political word-nerd and I enjoy promoting the importance of language in political affairs. Kayyem’s work at the Globe provided a great opportunity. 

It is interesting that Kayyem’s favorite words show she is bold and wants change. She focuses on government, the world, the military, foreign affairs, and women. Her writing’s “reading level” is low, but that can also be a style choice that is common for newspaper columnists. Take Kristoff – he’s quite a smart guy. But he is writing at a middle-school level for an audience who has several years of college. Kayyem’s lexical density is really low, and that really surprised me. I re-read some of her work, and it comes through in hindsight. Some of this is style, some of it is that her work isn’t dense with information. However, she writes on a lot of interesting topics that few others write about, and some that matter a great deal to the world. (So her column about the threat of a global disease outbreak is less dense than Jacoby writing about shipping wine through the mail.)

I hope you enjoyed this, and I will continue to follow the use of words in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

———————

Endnotes:

Tools Used:

Wordle
Textalyser

Licensing: I am putting this content and images under a creative commons share-and-share-alike license. Use this content, or any portion of which, however you want, just give a small attribution somewhere, something like “Thanks to Ed Lyons.” or a link to my Twitter handle (@mysteriousrook).

Links to Kayyem columns used:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/14/kayyem/8A7uIOmYBbtDD61q1OQTwJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/25/the-pieces-begin-look-familiar/9VzADmqvhGBHd8SLY8nVmL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/11/22/the-rock-star-missile/GjMiHzwaEU7RrYYVz11wiL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/07/01/the-politics-disaster/6VhAN5yaNKZGqNeMwMM71N/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/17/the-iraq-war-has-bookends/fv4sq0Lw1393k8dZZhwDXJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/08/patrick-storm-response-smart-serious/Rk5gw8X3jtk5ixTBPmpIdL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/07/12/case-throws-cold-water-ira-academia/mKMs4kjeQbFJ74egvs48gL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/06/03/the-world-needs-more-women-columnists/k4YBJFXFJwjYE0cVPCBnSI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/23/willfully-stupid-turkey/nye7nzccIj7IiGEDUP2SxK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/24/the-year-numbers/5c42g38CRKdoeIq25fQD5M/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/03/18/gardner-narrative-resiliency/9LdQKzZQQ1XVeAJ7Aw18LJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/15/obama-administration-inquiry-into-was-justified/acD1EC2k13r43ourkcMPPM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/21/olympic-committee-courts-smaller-cities/A95fknKYVufUKASsWDuuLK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/03/25/new-ocean-passage-with-not-enough-rules/mwHFWpjmf2bH0nklUhnvdI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/1969/12/14/kayyem/4TPmhEpBWZ8v0IcxSuL36L/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/17/boston-must-regroup-learn-and-adapt/Y2jGDes2jrXTGbIcTjWusL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/22/another-disaster-and-yet-relief-stays-same/R6DsCQCr8xhg0vZOUzlRcL/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/11/kayyem/nZyZPSO11qYYKEtVvM5pDO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/30/has-tied-own-hands-cuba-drills/8EF7WcuAIyKuN7xYvwpNDP/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/14/the-icc-will-succeed-letting-libya-advance/JkvLMUIhx8V6l8nY6AHZDJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/23/last-appeal-women-voters/XkW7OqtTk7kgdMA21zgcFN/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/28/children-feel-any-parents-are-normal/v5Wu8qJp3OMNvFyNFJeBZL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/11/numbers-matter-public-safety-reform/tTri3rl6g7LW9xJO1ZMIRK/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/28/stove-piping-blame-for-lack-scrutiny-tsarnaevs/FZZ776PHo36QAnwcqENiyH/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/04/01/good-copilot/WcsKDJiedDZAhiMA5O9e0M/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/05/10/plot-foiled-but-agency-rift-exposed/Etel4ueYRNgs9l90qoyYNP/story.html?event=event12
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/11/snowstorm-will-provide-blizzard-lessons/nML7nTTZQWtzfCWZ9LxTBM/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/11/08/republicans-bet-against-new-america-obama-next-steps/M5l1sOamh4uWhuAOc8lDyI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/24/trial-italian-scientists-not-witch-hunt/5N0EC0Ma8JmdWGkXcfq3cL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/11/05/the-war-climate-change-entirely-accurate/ALst59mxhCttuhJCWA8XVJ/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/03/the-world-does-not-revolve-around-benghazi/WTAXhcWNafMnzBzN6I6tTP/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/16/the-legacy-civil-war-and-native-son-death/IV2AV9FqPYejPqjCIRaubM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/12/haiti-lifeline-runway/rwSS1uhzJqedgHCLNNbNvL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/31/sandy-brings-healthy-anger/cfHt1qu8FQ2YMjP4bOmglJ/story.html
https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/12/libya-killings-will-block-intervention-syria/GOlbY2yniIjxgmeNm6MqkJ/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/07/22/veterans-population-changes-service-and-health-care-systems-must-adapt/kNDGlkHHJyaqGA5oaB5HEO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/19/stopping-clock/N9O3A9pePH2aJOWxHyrq8M/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/09/strategy-china-keep-vague/XMr53Y4fytqnEnY5Olue8I/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/02/veterans-get-play-tampa/ioRF9Utu6urfgCwUDPJIpJ/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/03/21/under-melting-ice-jackpot/q4KvXd45qQt1czSBUPkaFP/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2011/12/19/will-obama-tactic-work-for-gingrich/mBW9BhaiyMuIHSuL4hADFM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/06/21/immigration-can-solved-middle/pwlFL2Eg8hyOti9rpwnK5O/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/14/iran-scientist-assassinations-serve-end/LImwiZR1lUdrkk8FqECWGJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/03/28/open-mike-picks-good-signal/IBi51fb61N5RUsZ4Bo35NP/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/2011/11/02/kayyem/bt9apZGnveS3tadO5pZ1YJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/16/summertime-arctic-and-still-has-effective-strategy-for-coping-with-melting-seas/w7lnbWsgGxNXDk3xacOuZJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/05/24/the-joplin-effect/SxylpZvUwFPR1MxF36CdsI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/columns/2012/05/06/lukewarm-support-chinese-dissident-chen-guangcheng-case-lesson-strategic-interests-tragedy-merely-tragic/Olgf89jlpg6hj2urUK2k3O/story.html
https://www.bostonglobe.com/1970/01/11/kayyem/leb72umOUclnd56Fz7WYTJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/03/01/let-parades-greet-our-iraq-vets/xwz7zkGLedzziHAwDhy05O/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/07/foreign-policy-generals-and-diplomats-must-make-way-for-lawyers/0YTFeIRqbdcYF0HwpmPFAI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/02/27/smart-nuclear-reduction/rTCxqBbbpod94UoM8V4PiJ/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/07/29/galapagos-islands-influx-prompts-harsh-migration-policy/HFAWQ3H1J4gWyuOBC4h2SP/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/04/04/don-let-bin-laden-family-become-martyrs/myvGE8xE8DsuYZ4da0PPXI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/04/11/ozzie-guillen-why-this-controversy-now/Hns4kaQPoyJBLPTX1xdn8J/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/03/13/links-violence/JfCPEaHDBO0bEDjXoRpkzO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/20/panama-canal-future-depends-accommodating-wider-loads/PwsnYoQS4UWdgLHx8da8RM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/23/military-now-place-opportunity-for-women/AKe9Q63E1TSPT5QonCYOKO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/05/security-scourge/Hs1APubjNuxiXD6Q4gSJUJ/discuss.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/04/23/the-military-persistent-gender-divide-the-military-persistent-gender-divide/zM9svINBHWAiH97lEB4EcJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2011/10/03/the-mask-anonymous/WEYOZyaerO8QBSoWi06JYK/comments.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/08/02/india-power-outages-are-reminder-that-infrastructure-reflects-nation-power/bd9lKTPy57umwUQxAsbBdK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/27/defense-industry-has-its-own-october-surprise/OmBRjdb7gSrg1Fz7VierYO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/16/cruise-ships-have-grown-too-big-bail/PKlFTnVSKaxqyI48OrN7wO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/07/15/more-women-combat-will-cure-not-cause-systemic-sexual-abuse-problems/dIWrgG8Wtj8Jwj6gnVBROJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/03/08/ocean-planning-and-massachusetts/NmJeCmyyhUPTA811PPMogK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/23/panama-canal-expands-change-ripples-across-atlantic/B9OZrikoP3FnqdEzPBXnTM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/08/09/how-stop-deadly-virus/IPKgrWeXfYfyJpnFRvRvOO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/28/policies-toward-cuba-are-stuck/5D7YGl7yNINpDLQHwstBsN/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/09/feelings-about-remain-deeply-personal/SEtpP4qMuB6jBuR7VLIFPK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/08/30/author-book-bin-laden-raid-deserves-protection-and-isolation/r97OMpi0O3TAUvSYTkNhUL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/06/27/egypt-and-iran-inevitable-courtship/AwBGTHNuSe5wfCrtmpkruI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/21/president-obama-has-opportunities-guns-immigration/uRCngtyVOuJ51De55A8HyK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/07/frank-lost-feed/PFmQ3FJ2Bc11Y4FBpqI1xM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/04/hillary-tina-and-girls-like-them/btPSwSW36afsioJrs9ZnLL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/17/the-nimble-king/YlGD8BSufTt7AYjhGOQKFN/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/02/14/obama-the-master-disaster/zYNscvdJLppsp8tJlvQNfL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/20/details-are-distraction-newtown-killings/0DEmIPXe7wZpXGt01KKwjI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/06/the-commonwealth-carrot-and-stick/woKg84tz73Y5pWYJJbjTyI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/columns/2013/02/28/decision-claim-diplomatic-immunity-for-cholera-outbreak-haiti-was-cold-but-correct/MxeER5UM6aWzZB2WNJtjgI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/15/security-spectator-event-like-boston-marathon/0MFrcVKLMKRMFofNIZSbuM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/06/horatio-alger-shaped-america-views-immigration-but-what-way/CUZUUHQlGUrDQzqmnfZ0QP/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/21/third-debate-could-dated-before-its-over/1x6jsejtwT3LYva6F49tTI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/13/hagel-defenders-undermine-obama-doctrine/BCoz5mTDBZEuyKbxeqUf8L/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/31/loughner-and-lanza-have-become-nra-best-defense/iduxq9IeYvFDNMXNAaQn5O/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/13/jazeera-english-finds-its-audience/GsigRBVhFC8wr3EmS7He6J/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/30/hurricane-solidarity-won-last-long/ykA75uS5vVnYiUPyYJSCmL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/11/29/pentagon-rules-excluding-women-aren-worth-defending/KuhVU4yZm2oWhv14eg7WVK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/05/20/europe-other-challenge-immigration/wSPfddrQluAFww9r67ci3M/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/24/the-world-build/nHT841oM6i53fPvaJHzSbJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/18/foreign-policy-debate-exposes-parenting-ideologies-candidates/j8AtcXAwJV7C3uWXj5RjMM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/11/19/lets-employees-take-fall/AYmR5M3My8cINSfLNY7lCP/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/24/hillary-clinton-lays-out-vision-for-foreign-policy/iBHatinHb6fvgN19QkyoxI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/05/16/urging-women-all-that-you-can/eMAIzOEsxuhZxsTOk61P4I/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/28/making-terror-lists-matter-cuba-not-state-sponsor-terrorism/X2NW0rfYm5A2eJT5VZEuHI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/11/15/republican-theories-evolution-immigration/AVMFnRbnjyBKEW2fsGUNZN/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/07/the-real-plight-orphan-hostages/NoXdOiQdVpf7lQtA6cOT8H/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/28/from-seneca-falls-stonewall-and-back-again/EJ5qgmlNrX7JVBrGqteroO/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/columns/2012/12/10/qatar-arms-deals-expose-limits/adUtgyNNDBS0QdCILYXrMI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/06/22/article-working-moms-sparks-fiery-debate/j3wI3cpABzefPAd7r6SDRN/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/05/tsarnaev-brothers-lack-script-becomes-evident/cCupGz2tAJjk9hginzRPjP/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/02/mexico-and-share-border/ttPSLt8BE8GcnockDaDx0K/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/11/11/kayyem/e69ENZMeBtMR16DRjPhN5L/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/07/the-sense-and-cents-war/j96ai2HFW6KYaOd856DPkI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/03/hurricane-sandy-funding-controversy-wrong-fight-over-wrong-storm/LCqkVycUUccG1Dl2CrpDjI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/26/the-generational-problem/8Itmg4hELbEprlyGAne6OM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/12/will-pentagon-step-its-game/gxCWdZfAo5TJxg6y63zaZI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/19/the-art-warfare/poKNjFbGZcjozbDqrygQ8H/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/10/after-disasters-question-safety-recovery-lingers/2n3YaYeFKzNCwbAmy4jxHK/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/05/09/tragedy-cold-calculations/oC5qZkFd5BEMfk09KySBdM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/10/wishful-thinking-not-permanent-plan/nZCyuciTDoW7Tz7TaoclgM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/01/17/walmart-veterans-program-temporary-relief/JwldEA4QUpva9uK9S3oOMJ/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/11/significant-change-military-justice/lIb4mQkhLNyinRYHtOcMpI/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/20/fascism-nascent-comeback-europe/l0teOIMRHfTdIPCgMDNgcM/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/04/focuses-syrian-rebels-but-what-about-refugees/ZJCGgT5cE6oRJebXUTiuGL/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/04/04/dead-pigs-may-least-our-worries/2zkJwIE53jQddaF2ZJR27J/story.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/07/chavez-gone-but-his-type-remains-alive-policy/JPVYC5bSPVuBD4OuVWzvAL/story.html

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