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What Is 'Speaking American?'

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'Speaking American' is a specific Metaphor Project technique for framing liberal and progressive messages in a broadly accessible way at the values, 'big idea' level. It means using the same language that evokes the best American values‚ the ones we ourselves share---found in everyday American political communication.

For example, if politicians refer to 'playing by the rules' or  'leveling the playing field,' we all know they are talking about fairness. Fairness is a bedrock American value we all hold, even if the details of its expression or application vary. We can honestly use phrases like these to help open up political dialogue in our country.
Even though some might counter that 'life isn't fair,' fairness is still an important and widely shared American value. It may not convince the opposition, but it can rally our own supporters and appeal to the 'persuadables.'

A real world example of how this can work comes from a winning union political flier used in the '05 California election. It specifically talked about 'leveling the playing field' in order to fight a proposition that would have seriously hampered union political activity, leaving corporate political activity unchecked. More recently, 'play by the rules' was an important sound bite in the 2010 fight over re-regulating the financial industry.

The most effective way to use these familiar but powerful phrases, images, and metaphors in our 'infoglut' world is as part of a sound bite. George Lakoff's famous Republican example, 'tax relief' is a framing sound bite built on a familiar advertising slogan, 'Get pain relief fast,' itself based on American cultural expectations about fixing everything uncomfortable fast. See Why Speak American? and the Resources sections on this site for more about 'speaking American.' See also Other Frequently Asked Questions.