Counting The Words That Count | Slag Heap

Counting The Words That Count



Mayor Luke Ravenstahl presented next year's $438 million operating and $45 million capital budgets to city council Monday morning. And while many will spend the next several weeks analyzing what the budget will mean to the city, I thought it would be more interesting to look simply at the words the mayor used to get his message across. Sometimes that's the best way to understand what an official thinks is important.

In his 2008 State of the Union Address, for example, President George W. Bush used the words "terror" or "terrorists" 23 times and the words "Iraq" or "Iraqis" 38 times. In contrast, he used the word "health" seven times, and the words "jobs" and "economy" just six times each.

So taking a gander at the most-used words in Ravenstahl's speech, it's obvious that he was trying to spread a positive message, but did it really get to the heart of the challenges (used four times in the speech) facing the city.

Here's an image cloud of the top 50 words in Ravenstahl's speech, followed by a closer look at some of its key ideas


Family — Outside of the word "Pittsburgh" (27 times) and "city" (24 times), this word was used more than any other, clocking in 19 appearances.

Example of usage: "We have an obligation to the residents of our City, to solve the problems we face together — as a family."

How effective was the word: Arguably, city officials have been acting like a family in the past year. They've engaged with name calling, back biting and the occasional punch in the nuts when you really get steamed. Instead of acting like a family, maybe they need to act like professionals (a word used zero times in address).

Together — Used 13 times; the word "unity" was used four times.

Example of usage: "Together, we are one Pittsburgh family. … Like a Pittsburgh family, we will work together in the spirit of this historic election, to resist the urge to say 'no we can't' and instead say 'yes we can.'"

How effective was the word: Is this a real sentiment or merely a buzzword? President Bush, remember, was a uniter, not a divider. As for Ravenstahl, he used the word "together" eight times in his December 2007 inaugural address. But since then, he's gone out of his way to take shots at councilors Doug Shields and Bill Peduto.

Neighborhoods — Used 10 times.

Example of Usage: "Through our pay-as-you-go capital budget, we promised to invest in neighborhoods without mortgaging our children's future. And, we've succeeded. We made the largest public safety fleet investment in our City's history, purchasing more than 100 police vehicles, 9 fire trucks, and 8 ambulances."

Effectiveness of the word: It's surprising the mayor didn't use this word more often. He has spent much of the last year trying to bring change and investment to neighborhoods through efforts to fight blight and work to preserve small businesses. As a side note, the mayor also used the phrase BBI (Bureau of Building Inspection) four times. He has recently hired a new head of that department and inspectors will begin reporting to the local police zones and not a downtown office. On the other hand, the city did recently demolish a garage my mistake, clearing away one man's heirlooms, but if you're going to make an omelet (used zero times in address) ...

Cooper — The name of the mayor's new son was used four times (one reference shy of the number of photos sent to the press the day after he was born).

Example of Usage: "How lucky is Cooper, and the hundreds of babies born here every day, to live in a place where generations live in the same neighborhood, and sometimes even on the same street."

Effectiveness of the word: The mayor is obviously proud of his son, and that's great. At some point, though, it's going to start looking a little calculated, like Aerosmith asking Pittsburgh if it is, indeed, ready to rock.

Also, it can't be coincidental that the word COOPERation was also used four times.



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