Political speeches, puns and putdowns go online

Political speeches, puns and putdowns go online

Issued: Thu, 05 Nov 2015 00:02:00 GMT


Parliamentary speeches have advanced political careers over the centuries, but more often than not destroyed them.

Those key moments when politicians speak their minds and history is made, usually leading to the downfall of those whom their words were directed.

‌‌Political speeches and chamber quips always make for entertaining reading, and researchers at the University of Glasgow have made them even easier to source.

Linguists and historians have worked together to compile all the Parliamentary speeches from 1803-2005 on a free, easy access online website which is launched today.

The website includes 7.6 million speeches and 1.6 billion words and include some of the most memorable moments.

It includes all the greats: Sir Winston Churchill’s many wartime addresses to Parliament; Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech attacking Margaret Thatcher; and Dennis Healey's famous riposte to Geoffrey Howe’s verbal assault, likening it to “being savaged by a dead sheep”.

Dr Marc Alexander

The website also breaks down the common usage of words and terms favoured by individual politicians.

Margaret Thatcher preferred to use keywords such as “resource” and “negotiation”, which were both in her top five most common. Also high up in her speeches were the words “strike”, “wage” and “productivity”.

In comparison Tony Blair’s most common speech keywords were “troop”, “euro”, “summit”, and “pensioner”; and the most common verb preferred by Sir Winston Churchill during his 3032 speeches relating to WWII was “fight”.

Other interesting facts which have emerged from the research include: the MP who mentioned the United States the most is Winston Churchill; Margaret Thatcher is in fifth place; and ninth place surprisingly goes Jeremy Corbyn; and the late Rev Ian Paisley mentioned “carpets” more often in Parliament than “God”.

Commenting on today’s launch, Dr Marc Alexander, Director of Historical Thesaurus of English, University of Glasgow, said: “This launch, is part of our SAMUELS project to look at the meanings of huge collections of text, and lets us really uncover the ways MPs and Lords speak in Parliament and what they discuss. No-one can possibly read all 1.6 billion words, so what our team has done is develop all sorts of new ways of digging into that information and letting people search for it.

“The launch today at the University will include researchers from Glasgow and the other universities who have worked with us on this project, and John Vice, editor of Hansard from the House of Lords, has kindly agreed to come along to inaugurate the new website. It’s being launched on 5 November, the 410th anniversary of the day Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament – but we’re hoping to open up Parliament in a rather different way.”

Away from politics:

• James Bond appears 132 times in Parliament, starting in 1962, twice as often as Dracula at 66, although both are beaten by 278 of Mickey Mouse
• Sex gets 23,000 mentions and is twice as popular as cigarettes at 10,556
• Shakespeare gets a mention 5,938 times, while Robert Burns is mentioned 428 times
• The person recorded as being told to “shut up” the most in Parliament is MP Dennis Skinner


Media enquiries: jane.chilton@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 7126