There’s no paucity in Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s (D-Texas) lexicon. In other words, she knows a lot of big, smart-sounding words. In fact, according to one expert, she has the greatest vocabulary in the House.
Dan Kozikowski, a New York-based consultant, managed to create a map on his Tumblr blog showing the breadth of vocabulary of every member of Congress. He made “Words with Reps: Map of Vocab on the House Floor,” by combing through the Congressional Record to determine which members use the more than 3,000 words that might be found on SAT exams most frequently and how many total times they’ve uttered them.
Some of those college- readiness-exam words, according to freevocabulary.com, include “hirsute,” which means having a hairy covering, and “pentahedron,” meaning a solid bounded by five plane faces. Duh, right?
And when it comes to having an impressive verbiage, the loquacious Lee pretty much crushed it — she far outscored all 434 other House members with her plentiful use of words straight out of the SAT set.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) came in second place in the language showdown, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) talked himself into the third slot on the list.
Kozikowski says he was surprised that several of those members who made the top 10 list, including Kucinich, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), are high-profile figures. “I was wondering if the fact that they’re out there [in the media] advocating for their positions is associated with the ability to articulate themselves.”
While seven of the top 10 congressional word mavens in the tally are Democrats, the analytics whiz says the full list comes to a different conclusion: “Republicans, on average, have better vocabulary than Democrats.” But he points out that Democrats say more obscure words — those that have only been spoken once in the past 15 years — far more than their conservative counterparts.
ITK decided to have a word with the top three walking dictionaries.
Jackson Lee, an avid reader, told us in a phone chat that when she talks, she tries to speak from the heart: “I don’t study the dictionary, though I love the idea of the written language and the spoken word, because I believe it’s important to explain to the people just what you’re doing.”
When asked if she was surprised by her new title as Capitol Hill’s vocab queen, the congresswoman replied, “It sure shocked me,” before adding with a laugh, “Now I have this burden of going on the [House] floor and not making any mistakes!”
In a phone interview, Smith said, “I do write my own speeches, keynotes, graduations.” And although he doesn’t remember what his score on the SAT verbal section was, he explains, “The whole idea is to reach the reader or listener … it’s all about trying to impact an audience with clarity.”
Kucinich told us in an email message, “I’m jubilant. I predominantly eschew grandiloquence, but I can become ebullient.”
And with that, we’re officially speechless.