The Words That Mattered In 2011





12-19-11

Ian C. Friedman is the author or co-author of six books, including "Presidents: A Biographical Dictionary" (Facts on File, 2010) and he is the creator of www.wordsmatterblog.com, which analyzes the quotations that reflect and explain American history and culture.

Each year possesses a distinctive history and character that is best understood through the spoken words that created and shaped it.  Here are the ten quotations that best reflect the American experience in the year 2011.

“We are the 99%”—Occupy Wall Street motto
Economic anxiety continued in 2011, lowlighted by the summer’s tedious and largely fruitless bickering over the debt ceiling.  However, the most memorable words related to this collective stress were coined by Occupy Wall Street protesters, who created a nationwide movement that helped bring attention to the issue of increased income inequality in the United States.

“…journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel.”—Sarah Palin
The January shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords led to an amazing story of recovery as well as another Sarah Palin gaffe.  Days after the shooting Palin provided this response to critics of a graphic featured at her website that depicted gun scopes over twenty congressional districts (including Giffords’s) targeted by Republicans.  Unfortunately for Palin, the term ‘blood libel’ does not mean false accusation.  Instead, it refers to the centuries-old lie that Jews killed Christian babies and used their blood to make matzo.  Oy vey!

“Now is not my time.”—Chris Christie
Who knows how the New Jersey governor would have played if, instead of issuing the statement above, he had joined the race for the Republican nomination.  Like second-string quarterbacks, presidential candidates often enjoy their highest esteem before they dirty themselves in the process of actual participation.  But Christie does possess traits that could have shaken up the race and his decision to pass on a run may prove to the most important GOP 2012 campaign-related words of all.

“Oops”—Rick Perry
The Texas governor was talkin’ tough during a November Republican debate when—for a minute that for Perry must have seemed like an hour—he careened off the cliffs of recollection.  Perry stumbled, stammered, and fizzled while trying to recall the third of the three federal departments on his chopping block.  He then meekly uttered this one syllable that captured the alternately reckless, wandering, and underwhelming mark Perry made on this election season.

“I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake.”—Mitt Romney
Romneytron 2012 peeled back the metal to provide human expression in explaining why he would be careful not to employ an illegal immigrant.  The quote can also be used to understand most things Romney believes says.

“You want a job, right?”—Herman Cain
Herman Cain’s surprising rise and status as a Republican frontrunner was damaged by the disclosure of previous sexual harassment claims against him, as well as the charge that he expressed this art-of-seduction clunker to a former female colleague who claimed he wanted more than just to offer the career support she requested.

“We will see you tomorrow night!”—Joe Buck
The thrilling Game Six of the 2011 World Series witnessed the ultimate champion St. Louis Cardinals down to their final strike in two different innings, before a game-winning home run by St. Louis third baseman David Freese.  As that ball began its descent onto the Busch Stadium berm beyond the centerfield wall, Fox play-by-play announcer Joe Buck echoed the words spoken by his father Jack Buck—then the lead Major League Baseball announcer for CBS—almost exactly twenty years earlier as another legendary World Series Game Six was coming to an end through a home run.

“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”—Steve Jobs
The most significant American to die in 2011 was Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in early October.  According to his sister, author Mona Simpson, Jobs’ last words reflected his role as one of history’s greatest technological visionaries.  They were also cryptic.

“We were…horsing around…”—Jerry Sandusky
The charges of child rape against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky are shocking in both degree and scope.  The incidents as described convey nightmarish qualities of helplessness, isolation, and brutality that shake the conscience.  And the twisted and tortured rationale of his behavior offered by Sandusky during an interview with Bob Costas was similarly chilling.

“Justice has been served.”—Barack Obama
Sixty-six years and one day after the death of Adolf Hitler came this statement announcing the killing of another of history’s most detestable villains—Osama bin Laden—by U.S. military special forces during a risky midnight raid in Pakistan.  Delivered by President Obama to a rapt nation late on a Sunday night, these words remain above all others in meaning and memory from what was often a contentious and frustrating year.


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