John Kerry is a smart guy. No question about it. But the reason he’s still a Senator and not a President may have more to do with his choice of words than his political stances. At least that’s what Dr. Frank Luntz suggests, and I’m inclined to agree. Folks as dissimilar as Al Franken and Rudy Giuliani sing the good doctor’s praises.


In “Words That Work” (published by Hyperion and subtitled “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”), the conservative pollster and cable TV news pundit discusses the role word choices have played in everything from political campaigns to labor negotiations to traffic stops. “The most effective language clarifies rather than obscures,” he writes.



For example, when Kerry attacked his opponent’s foreign policy, he suggested that America needed “a bold, progressive internationalism that stands in stark contrast to the too often belligerent and myopic unilateralism of the Bush Administration.” Brilliant wording, but it soared right over the average voter’s head. Even people with huge vocabularies tuned him out. Had he said “we need to work with the world,” people would have understood. No matter what you may think of the current occupant of the White House, you have to admire the powerful simplicity of “Yes, we can.”


Dr. Luntz’s book is more than an analysis of vocabulary. He offers sound advice for any number of situations, including the simple greeting that can help you avoid a speeding ticket. If you appreciate the wonders of words, or if you just want to be a more effective writer, buy a copy.