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It’s been a hoot this week watching various progressive bloggers (including myself) trying to stop writing about the situation tragicomedy that is the Palin nomination. Slightly more worrisome is the growing awareness that desperation, with all of its likely dark strategies, is overtaking the GOP.

So let me say goodbye to this riveting political week with some calm, cerebral meta-analysis from the New York Times. After which I promise not to mention the name Sarah Palin ever again. Or at least until the Earth has traveled fully 1.6 million miles through space.

I blogged about concordances about a year ago, noting that the frequency of words used in a book can say a lot (though not everything) about a book. (Harp music and wavy lines…)

Below are concordances for two parenting books, with the 100 most common words in order of frequency (in batches of ten for easier reading). One is about raising kids using biblical principles; the other is about raising kids without religion. See if you can tell which is which, and whether the concordances reveal anything about content, approach, and tone:


1-10: children—parents—god—child—love—own—husband—family—lord—word
11-20: wife—teach—heart—sin—christ—father—need—life—things—even
21-30: kids—should—man—must—son—proverbs—parenting—mother—does—scripture
31-40: kind—wisdom—evil—first—church—shall—may—home—fear—authority
41-50: marriage—obey—christian—ephesians—law—work—right—come—principle—means
51-60: take—truth—wives—woman—time—true—good—himself—solomon—give
61-70: live—men—let—paul—role—society—duty—honor—commandment
71-80: obedience—responsibility—teaching—against—gospel—know—therefore—verse—discipline—people
81-90: submit—something—themselves—jesus—want—women—wrong—world—day—think
91-100: instruction—faith—always—attitude—command—ing—certainly—spiritual—genesis—now


1-10: children—god—parents—religious—time—people—child—good—things—life
11-20: family—religion—world—think—believe—secular—know—even—beliefs—may
21-30: years—questions—own—right—kids—human—death—reason—first—school
31-40: idea—need—day—should—ing—moral—see—live—want—new
41-50: book—help—now—find—say—take—work—answer—others—something
51-60: church—come—wonder—bob—values—age—friends—get—go—little
61-70: does—without—long—often—true—thinking—feel—stories—must—love
71-80: exist—part—give—important—really—animals—two—great—kind—might
81-90: humanist—best—look—seems—still—atheist—few—thought—mean—mind

Book A is

Book B is

The first observation is among the most interesting: that these two books, though different in many, many ways, have the same top three words. Even more interesting is that the secular parenting book mentions God more often. Not entirely surprising if you think about it. The top four words in Quitting Smoking for Dummies are SMOKING, SMOKE, TOBACCO, and CIGARETTES.

I went on to note that the religious parenting book used words related to OBEDIENCE 22 times more often (relative to total word count) than the nonreligious parenting book.

Now the New York Times has created a graphic concordance for the principal speeches in the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, selecting 23 “big theme” words or phrases common to speeches at both events, and it’s equally revealing.

The most common of the selected words for the Democrats? CHANGE, which was heard 89 times per 25,000 words. Most common Republican word? GOD, at 43 times per 25K. (For all their pragmatic pandering to religion, Democrats could only muster half as many references to Jehovah — 22.)

Second of concern to the GOP from the list is TAXES (42), followed by CHANGE (30), BUSINESS (30), and ENERGY (26). BUSH was mentioned only seven times per 25,000 words, and the phrase “FOUR MORE YEARS,” for some inexplicable reason, not even once.

Ten of the words were in the mouths of Democrats more often than GOD. Second to CHANGE was MCCAIN (78), followed by ENERGY (49) and BUSH (46). And the phrase “FOUR MORE YEARS” occurred 14 times on this scale.

Okay. That’s it — the last installment of my tangent into politics. Next time it’s back to parenting, humanism, critical thinking, and Sarah Palin.


[See the complete Times graphic here.]

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Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...