For some time I have been noting bits and pieces of Barack Obama’s idiolect – those words and phrases he especially favors. I noticed, for example, how much he loves the word “improbable” and how often he uses it with feigned wonderment at his own amazing, to him and therefore to his audience, history -- if the history of a man is to be reduced to some banal business about his ethnic and racial background, subjects for Obama of apparently great and abiding interest, rather than being centered on the much more interesting history of the development and cultivation of that man's unique intellect and take on the universe.
The first notable public use was in his speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, which had not yet become the staple we have all become so used to, and some of us to love – Obama’s Personal History, A History That Like Its Humble Hero Doth Bestride The World Like A Colossus And Holds Out The Audacity Of Hope For All Of Us – contained the following:
“My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name.”
This past year, in desultory fashion, I put up two comments at Jihad Watch that show his favoring --or as some ill-educated professors of literature might put it, his “privileging” -- that adjective:
”He [Barack Obama], or his speechwriter, like to lift phrases from American history. And some of them, but not all, can be tracked down. The one he keeps re-using, and that he used early on in today's speech -- that "improbable experiment" -- has a ring to it. I suspect that the well-turned phrase comes either from some figure in American history, or was said by a professor conducting a class at law school or even by an emeritus professor giving a talk. When did Paul Freund, who was good at quoting Mr. Justice Holmes, die? Or might it have been a subtitle used by Bernard Bailyn, or Michael Kammen? One never knows.”
“Yes, Obama can point out -- unless McCain beats him to the punch -- that the Money Weapon is so much more effective, at this point, than terrorism in promoting the goal of removing all obstacles to the spread, and then the dominance, of Islam. And he can grandly reach out, he with his "improbable" life story and his race-and-nation-bestriding impulse, to create that Grand Alliance that will "harness the energies" of "both left and right." But Obama can't do it if he doesn't recognize Arab and Muslim oil revenues as a Money Weapon, and is unable to connect that instrument of Jihad, the Money Weapon, to support for other instruments of Jihad, including Da'wa, and demographic conquest and, yes, that terrorism to which such dangerously exclusive, even monomaniacal, attention has been given by the benighted Bush Administration.
So when I read a story about Obama’s speech-act of July 24, 2008 in Berlin, I can’t say that I was “pleasantly surprised” – because I wasn’t surprised at all – but was certainly amused to discover that the phrase from Obama’s speech that was chosen by The Times as the title for the story came from this perorating excerpt:
“People of Berlin, and people of the world, the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.”
The Times titled its story about the speech “We Are A People Of Improbable Hope.”
No, not so “improbable.” In fact, that was surely, for those who are verbally vigilant, the least improbable, and the most probable, “improbable,” in the history of speechifying.
And here's the headline of, and link to, an article I found on the Internet just now:
In something of a parting gift, President Obama is making abundantly clear ... “A few years ago it would have been seen as improbable,” Clinton ...