Tuesday 20 January 2009

high apple pie in the sky hopes...

Look, I know it's a great day and everything, but as the 44th President of the United States of America gets down to business, do you mind if I get something off my chest?

WTF is "The Audacity of Hope"?

The "Audacity" bit is simple enough:

au·dac·ity (ô das′ə tē)


1. bold courage; daring
2. shameless or brazen boldness; insolence
3. pl. audacities -·ties; an audacious act or remark

I'm assuming that, in this context, Obama is talking about courage or daring and not about brazen boldness or insolence.

The "Hope" seems pretty clear too:

hope (hōp)


1. a feeling that what is wanted is likely to happen; desire accompanied by expectation
2. the thing that one has a hope for
3. a reason for hope
4. a person or thing on which one may base some hope
5. Archaic trust; reliance

OK. So we have bold courage and we have desire accompanied by expectation. Fine. What about the little word that joins the two together?

Now, here's where I have a problem. "Of". Is that really the right word? Does he really mean "of"? The Audacity OF hope? Is that right?

of (uv)

1. from; specif.,
--a. derived or coming from; men of Ohio
--b. resulting from; caused by; through to die of fever
--c. proceeding as a product from; by the poems of Poe
--d. resulting from an operation or process involving the product of 3 and 4
--e. at a distance from or apart from
--f. deprived, relieved, or separated from; robbed of his money
--g. from the whole, or total number; one of her hats
--h. distinguished as by excellence; from among the greatest Presidents
--i. distinguished as the best, most important; from among the holy of holies
--j. made from; using as its material (a specified substance); a sheet of paper
2. is what was done, expressed, etc. by how wise of her!
3. belonging to; the pages of a book, that dog of his
--a. having; possessing a man of property
--b. containing a bag of nuts
--a. that is; having the designation of; a height of six feet
--b. as a way to characterize; a prince of a fellow
6. with (something specified) as object, goal, etc; a reader of books
--a. having as a distinguishing quality or attribute; a year of plenty
--b. as characterized with respect to; quick of mind, hard of heart
8. concerning; about; with reference to think well of me
9. set aside for; dedicated to a day of rest
--a. during of late years
--b. Informal on or at (a specified day, time, etc.); he came of a Friday
11. before: used in telling time ten minutes of nine
12. Archaic by rejected of men

Etymology: ME <> L ab (see ab-), Gr apo-

The bold courage derived from desire accompanied by expectation?

I'm not sure about you, but I think that's got a slightly uncomfortable ring for such an accomplished orator?

How about The Audacity TO Hope?

to (to̵̅o̅)

--a. in the direction of; toward a turn to the left, traveling to Pittsburgh
--b. in the direction of; it fell to the ground
2. as far as; to the extent of wet to the skin, starved to death
-- a. toward or into the condition of; to grow to manhood, a rise to fame
--b. so as to result in; sentenced to ten years in prison
-- a. on, onto, against, at, next to, etc.: a house to the right, cheek to cheek
--b. in a (specified) relation; with lines parallel to each other
--c. in front of; face to face
--a. until; no parking from four to six
--b. before; at ten to six
6. for the purpose of; for come to dinner
--a. as concerns; with respect to; to leave oneself open to attack
--b. in the opinion of; it seems good to me
8. producing, causing, or resulting in; to his amazement, torn to pieces
9. along with; accompanied by; dance to the music
10. being the proper appurtenance, possession, or attribute of; of the key to the house
11. as compared with; as against a score of 7 to 1, superior to the others
--a. in agreement, correspondence, or conformity with; not to her taste
--b. as a reaction, or in response, toward; the dog came to his whistle
13. constituting; in or for (each) four quarts to a gallon
14. as far as the limit; of moderate to high in price
15. with (a specified person or thing) as the recipient of the verb: give the book to her
16. in honor of; a toast to your success
17. by: used in some passive constructions a person known to me
18. at or in (a specified place) [to have someone to the house for dinner]
19. Dialectal with (a specified crop) a field planted to corn

Etymology: ME <> L (quan)do, when, then, do(nec), until


1. forward; his hat is on wrong side to
2. in the normal or desired direction, position, or condition; shut the door
3. into a state of consciousness; the boxer came to
4. at hand; we were close to when it happened

The bold courage so as to result in desire accompanied by expectation? Is that better?

As the originator of this phrase is now the most powerful man in the world, is it not all the more important that we clarify this?

Or am I missing something?


  1. Yes. You are missing the fact that it is short, succinct, and open to interpretation without having any negative connotations.

    Linguists annoy me when they take this approach (not you specifically), analysing sentences word for word.

    Context, delivery, cadence and so on, are all part of public speaking. Ask Prof. Geoffrey Pullum what he though (languagelog.com I think), I bet he COULD pick holes in it too.

    Nowt personal, but perhaps we should judge him, not his speechwriters.

  2. Gordon - it's the title of his book, not a speech I'm wilfully picking holes in. It has his name on it, so he bloody well better have written the damn thing.

    Perhaps Hope is a person? Or the town in Arkansas?

  3. ...and I'm not saying you are doing this, but I think old dubbya was judged quite mercilessly for his simple, folksy take on English. Will there be any double standards should Obama slip up from time to time; or is it ok because we like him?

  4. fair play toni, hope should not be audacious. it is one's belief in hope that makes it worthwhile, therefore it expands one's views, raises expectations and elicits the hope of others. There is no audacity within hope as hope contains (or reflects) the audacity.

  5. DOH.

    OK, he wrote it. But the rest of my comments stand, twisting usage of the English language is allowed!

  6. I, for one, think you need to get out more.

  7. "or am I missing something?"

    Probably the point; however, you do make a sharp and incisive cut into the woo-hoo excitement surrounding Obama's generally perceived articulacy.

    It may be helpful to note he has previously worked in academia. Universities are FULL of this sort of (slightly nonsensical, slightly incoherent) thing - it's the "it sounds good" problem.

    And yeah, we probably are more tolerant of Obama because of a general degree of empathy to his political arguments and ideals (and that general articulacy) as contrasted to hapless Dubya. Even when Dubya said something smart - well, if he delivered what his writers told him to say - it often sounded dumb...

  8. As an aside, I wonder how much he's made out of this book?

    I'm not trying to puncture anything really - I'm as excited as anyone, at the sense of optimism in the air as much as by anything else. Even if he ultimately achieves nothing, right now at least, everything seems possible and I love the feeling of, yes, hope.

    I'm only raising a tiny little question mark about the book title that has been bothering me. It may even be technically linguistically correct, but it feels awkward. He's a good orator too (even if he fluffed his pledge of allegience).

    And yes, I wanted to mention Obama without just harping on about his inauguration. I'm also keen that, now he's in office, he talks a whole lot less about "hope" and gets on and changes things. I was appalled by the Panorama programme on Monday night that highlighted the state of healthcare in the US: how 38m people live below the povery line, how a charity set up to provide healthcare in the third world now does 60% of its work in the US, how a woman had to sell her house and live in a tent to afford chemotherapy. It shocked me, it really did.

    I should also, definitely, get out more.