No, Caroline, we don't know

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I have no opinion -- none at all -- about whether Caroline Kennedy would make a good senator. But for someone with a law degree and now political aspirations, she's astonishingly ill-spoken


It's not necessarily admirable in consumers of political rhetoric like me that we focus more readily on "um"s and "you know"s than on what the person is saying. But we do, and it's no surprise that we do -- English teachers and speech coaches have been making this point forever. 

I never whaled on Sarah Palin for the way she talks, because there isn't much reason to suppose she could do better. She doesn't have a fancy education, and she doesn't come from a place that's world-renowned for its intellectual life. But Kennedy is a different story. She has the best education money can buy and every possible reason to know what accomplished public speaking sounds like. And she still sounds like a dope, because of those "um"s and "you know"s. 

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Visit Barbara Wallraff’s blog, at barbarawallraff .theatlantic.com, to see more commentary on language and to submit Word Fugitive queries and words that meet David K. Prince’s need. Readers whose queries are published and those who take top honors will receive an autographed copy of Wallraff’s most recent book, Word Fugitives. More

Barbara WallraffBarbara Wallraff, a contributing editor and columnist for The Atlantic, has worked for the magazine for 25 years. She is also a weekly syndicated newspaper columnist for King Features and the author of Word Fugitives (2006), Your Own Words (2004), and the national best-seller Word Court (2000). Her writing about language has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wilson Quarterly, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Magazine.

Wallraff has been an invited speaker at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the National Writers Workshop, the Nieman Foundation, Columbia Journalism School, the British Institute Library of Florence, and national or international conventions of the American Copy Editors Society, the Council of Science Editors, the International Education of Students organization, and the Journalism Education Association. She has been interviewed about language on the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw and dozens of radio programs including Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered. National Public Radio's Morning Edition once commissioned her to copy edit the U.S. Constitution. She is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. The Genus V edition of the game Trivial Pursuit contains a question about Wallraff and her Word Court column.

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