AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on
WORDMASTER: dictionary editor Ben Zimmer explains terms from the U.S.
RS: We start with "battleground state" and "swing state."
ZIMMER: "Well, they're usually used pretty interchangeably. They are
states where we don't whether they will go for the Republican ticket or
the Democratic ticket, and that's where the election will be decided."
RS: "So the swing states or the battleground states would be Michigan. Ohio ... "
AA: "Ohio. Pennsylvania, we hear a lot."
ZIMMER: "That's right, and those are the states that have been really
crucial in the past few presidential elections. One way that people
have been talking about it in the past few elections is in terms of
color. There are red states, which are assumed to go for the
Republicans, blue states for the Democrats, and the ones that we're not
sure of, people call purple states.
"The television networks
actually set up a system of color-coding so that there would be no
favoritism. They would actually switch the colors blue and red based on
the incumbent party. So, for instance, in two thousand the incumbent
party was Democratic and that color was blue.
"In two thousand
four the incumbent party was Republican and they switched the
color-coding so that the incumbents had red. But that meant that the
Democrats were blue again.
"The system was supposed to switch
over again this year, but it looks like they're just going to hold on
to that. Otherwise it would just be very confusing for people, because
that's the association everybody has now."
RS: "And it's good that it's not on the ballot."
BEN ZIMMER: "That's true. I'm color blind, so I would have a real problem with that if they started using colors on the ballot."
RS: "Speaking of ballots, what's an absentee ballot? We're hearing a lot about that too."
ZIMMER: "This is actually becoming a very widespread phenomenon now. A
lot of states are encouraging people to vote ahead of time. They don't
ask you why anymore. They just say go ahead, do it by mail. And this is
seen as a way to increase voter participation for people who might have
a problem getting out to the polls on Election Day.
also changing things quite a lot because large numbers of people are
voting by mail well before Election Day. And so the whole dynamics of
the kind of endgame of the election could be very different because
people are voting much earlier now."
AA: "And in fact even the campaigns are offering to send people absentee ballot applications."
ZIMMER: "That's right. I mean, this is really crucial also with older
voters who might have trouble getting to the polling stations. And so
we've seen a big push in states like Florida to have elderly voters
RS: "One of the expressions we've been seeing in
the news lately because we've had two political conventions is
BEN ZIMMER: "That refers to the spike in
the polls for a candidate immediately after a political convention. So
the Democrats had their convention first this year and we saw a rise in
the polls that favored Obama.
"And then the Republicans had
their convention the next week and they got an even bigger bump because
of all the attention mostly surrounding the vice presidential
candidate, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska."
AA: "And another term we're hearing in connection with Sarah Palin is 'Hail Mary pass.'"
ZIMMER: "Well, that's an interesting term that made the transition from
religion to sports to politics. So a 'Hail Mary' is a devotional prayer
that's said by Catholics, and then it made the transition to sports.
Roger Staubach, who was a famous football player in the nineteen
seventies, referred to a forward pass that he made at the end of an
important football game as a 'Hail Mary pass,' which means he just
threw it and said a prayer, hoping that it would be caught.
sure enough, the ball was caught and his team won that important game.
And so that then became a metaphor for any kind of desperate move made
to try to obtain a victory. So when Sarah Palin was announced, some
people said 'Oh, this is just a Hail Mary pass. He's just trying to get
ahead of Obama by making this unexpected move.'"
Zimmer is executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus, an online
thesaurus and dictionary. More terms from the campaign trail next week.
As for those post-convention bumps, we should note that as of Tuesday,
the RealClearPolitics.com average of national polls had Barack Obama
ahead by three points.
RS: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.