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Members of Congress are too wordy, study shows

By Dave Helling, McClatchy Newspapers –

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It seems all those whereases and therefores have gone to their heads, or at least to their prose.

Folks in Congress use too many words and too many syllables, a new study says, for the average American to decode.

The Sunlight Foundation took speeches and statements from the Congressional Record and plugged them into something called the Flesch-Kincaid readability index.

That analysis assigns a grade level for the remarks: The bigger the words and the longer the sentences, the more schooling you need to decipher them.

Most Americans read at the eighth- or ninth-grade level, the study says, but Congress speaks in language geared for a high school underclassman (albeit with logic that sometimes seems straight from kindergarten).

Missouri GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s prose fits somewhere between the 8th and 9th grades.

Just because Hartzler’s language is middle school simple, though, doesn’t mean there isn’t Ph.D. reasoning behind it.

“What some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress,” study author Lee Drutman noted, “others will see as more effective communications.”

Hartzler’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The overall congressional score was a high school sophomore-friendly 10.6, down almost a full grade level from 2005.

“Those on the political extremes, especially those on the far right, tend to have the most simple speech patterns,” Drutman wrote.

Most newspaper stories rank between 11th grade and college sophomore, the study noted, except of course when they read like they were written by someone, uh, simpler.

While Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech rang up an 8.4, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech rolled a righteous 9.4. Those younger than high school juniors were likely befuddled by the Gettysburg Address — four score and all that.

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