Obama’s Inauguration Address: How Did You Read It?

21 January 2009

Following on from the time lapse analysis we conducted on the US Airways crash landing yesterday, today we turned our attention to President Obama’s inauguration speech.

There has already been some interesting analysis (like this Wordle image), so we dusted down an internal application built to score the readability of news articles and put Obama and some of his recent – and not so recent – predecessors through the mangle.

Here’s Obama’s result:

Let me explain the numbers (note that there may be a slight margin of error so please don’t write in if you get different values).

The Flesch Index is a measure of reading ease. Obama has hit “Plain English” spot on, with his text easily understood by 13-15 year old students at the minimum.

The Fog Index (or rather Gunning fog index) is an indication of the number of years formal education a person requires in order to easily understand a text on the first reading. Assuming you start school aged 4/5, again he hits the 14/15 year old minimum.

So how does he compare with previous Presidents’ inauguration addresses?

Slightly better than the guy he replaces, that’s for sure. George W Bush’s second address scores 58 on the Flesch Index and 11.5 on the Fog Index (his first was actually better: 62 Flesh and 10.1 Fog).

Daddy knows best, though, because George HW Bush’s speech came in with a Flesch score of 75 and a Fog score of 8.2.

Head back in time and you have to say that, considering language was generally more complex, Abe Lincoln did pretty well. His second inaugural address of 1865 gives him a highly respectable 57 on the Flesch scale and 12.8 for its Fog counterpart – only just shy of George W’s oratory.

The nation’s first chief executive, George Washington, set the ball rolling in 1789. I doubt he thought some blogger would turn his historic moment into two numbers 220 years later, but for what it’s worth those numbers are 16 and 23.4!

So there you go Mr President. One Bush behind you, but one still ahead.

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One Response to “Obama’s Inauguration Address: How Did You Read It?”

  1. christopher molineux

    If you want to see some constructive analysis on the inauguration speech there’s a pretty good piece at: http://psworkbench.blogspot.com/ called “5 reasons why you shouldn’t speak like Barack Obama”

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