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The Kerry quote that won't die

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April July 15, 2008 11:50 PM

Dan Kennedy’s press blog, Media Nation, is always worth reading, but it’s not usually about language in The Word’s relatively narrow sense.

Today, though, Kennedy takes aim at a long-discredited -- but still ambulatory -- myth about John Kerry's presidential campaign, revived this morning by the Boston Herald’s Margery Eagan:

Lots of us didn’t like Kerry: the faux Kennedy thing. The Brahmin-esque cadence. “Who among us,” he bellowed as often as McCain says “my friends.”

Not true, says Kennedy. The much-repeated and much-mocked quote Eagan is referring to is “Who among us doesn’t like Nascar?” which first appeared in Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column in 2004. But Kerry never said it. And, says Kennedy, "to the extent that the haughty 'who among us' construction was used to demonstrate that Kerry was not a man of the people, it's important to point out that it was all based on a falsehood" -- one repeated by the Times and other mainstream newspapers.*

It's not even true, says Kennedy -- who has done his Nexis research -- that Kerry had any special affinity for the phrase "who among us." And the whole sordid story was detailed at The Daily Howler nearly four years ago.

"Not to pick on Margery Eagan," concludes Kennedy. "The journalist who bears the responsibility for this is Maureen Dowd. But can we finally put this urban legend to rest?"

I guess we'll find out.

*The Globe used the quote just once, a few days after Dowd’s column, in a feature about whether Kerry’s speaking style was too formal. In it, (liberal) Berkeley linguist Geoff Nunberg commented on the "quote": "Sentences that begin with 'Who among us does not like . . . ' should end with 'Placido Domingo.' "

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column “The Word” since 1997. E-mail her at freeman@globe.com.
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