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Web Site Takes Politicians at Their Word

Look who's talking: Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.). (Rangel: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. Moran and Bartlett: Courtesy of their offices)

Ever notice how often Roscoe Bartlett says "oil"? Neither had we! The western Maryland Republican used the word 1,914 times in the past two years, far more than any other member of Congress.

Nor had we followed the number of times Charlie Rangel has uttered "Caribbean" -- exactly 233 times in the past 12 months, making it the New York Democrat's most prevalent word (not including "and," "it," "the" and all those other obvious little ones).

There's one thing our city produces in bulk -- words -- and now someone's keeping track. Capitol Words, a newish Web site from the government-transparency advocate Sunlight Foundation, slices and dices the entirety of the Congressional Record for your searching pleasure.

The idea, says spokeswoman Gabriela Schneider, was to "see what's on congressmen's minds" by cataloguing the words that come up the most. Top word of the month: "land." Of the past year: "energy." Of the 110th Congress: "health."

"Thomas Coburn is a budget hawk, and his number-one word is 'billion,' " notes the foundation's senior fellow, Bill Allison. "Even more than 'pork' or 'earmarks.' "

Which tells us ... what exactly? Sometimes it's obvious -- Bartlett co-founded the Peak Oil Caucus; Rangel has been fielding charges he failed to report rental income from his Caribbean villa. But what does it mean that Chris Dodd uses "impossible" more than anyone else? (Or that Jim Moran apparently uses fewer words than most reps?) Allison sees it as a starting point for analysis. "You start fooling around with it and think: Why is this person so fixated on this word?"

Or you just start fooling around, period. Who uses "whining" the most? Barbara Boxer, five times in two years. "Toenail"? Uttered exactly once, by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex). "Hilton" and "Spears" -- is Rep. Joe Wilson, like, obsessed with starlets? Doubt it: He represents Hilton Head; Spears Creek is another place name in his South Carolina district.

And thank you, Kit Bond, of Missouri, the only senator brave enough to bring up "zombies" (twice).

By The Reliable Source  |  April 17, 2009; 1:05 AM ET
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Are the words Memorex? Some speech writer's tutoring? Reality?

Posted by: jedwin | April 17, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

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