The words we use — even the pronouns — reveal a lot about us, author says

August 15, 2011
Bookshelf
Between you and me, words say a lot
“The Secret Life of Pronouns” (Bloomsbury, $28)

The words we use say a lot about us. Not just the curse words or vocabulary-busters, but also the nearly invisible terms that we text, tweet and utter every day. Boring, single-syllable stuff such as “I,” “we” and “you.” In his new book, “The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us,” social psychologist James W. Pennebaker adds up the pronouns and prepositions in countless speeches, poems and e-mails, examining what they reveal about how we think, feel and regard others. For instance, Pennebaker finds that people who regularly use “I” are often perceived as warm and honest, while people who use it less frequently come across as self-confident. According to Pennebaker, people assume that President Obama uses “I” at a very high rate, but the opposite is actually true. By analyzing transcripts of speeches and interviews, he finds that Obama drops the I-word less frequently than any other modern president. “Obama’s language suggests self-assurance and, at the same time, an emotional distance,” he writes.

Aaron Leitko

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