It’s not just a lazy stereotype that men and women speak differently. In fact, researchers who have sifted through thousands of language samples from men and women have identified clear statistical differences. Some of these differences are exactly what you’d expect—men are more likely to swear and use words that signal aggression, while women are more likely to use tentative language (words like maybe, seems or perhaps) and emotion-laden words (beautiful, despise). But other patterns are far from obvious. For example, contrary to the common stereotype that men can’t resist talking about themselves, women are heavier users than men of the pronoun “I” whereas the reverse is true for the pronoun “we”; women produce more common verbs (are, start, went) and auxiliary verbs (am, don’t, will), while men utter more articles (a, the) and prepositions (to, with, above); women use fewer long words than men when speaking or writing across a broad range of contexts.
Jennifer Jones, a doctoral candidate of political psychology at the University of California at Irvine, has combined these statistics into an index capturing the ratio of “feminine” to “masculine” words, and applied it to the language of 35 political candidates over the past decade. Hillary Clinton’s language falls above the average on this index—more feminine than George W. Bush’s, but less so than Barack Obama’s.
But Donald Trump is a stunning outlier. His linguistic style is startlingly feminine, so much so that the chasm between Trump and the next most feminine speaker, Ben Carson, is about as great as the difference between Carson and the least feminine candidate, Jim Webb. And Trump earns his ranking not just because he talks a lot about himself or avoids big words (both of which are true); according to Jones, he also shows feminine patterns on the more subtle measures, such as his use of prepositions and articles. The key then is not what Trump talks about—making Mexico pay for the wall or bombing the hell out of ISIL—but rather how he says it.
To which Hillary Clinton responded in the more familiar—and more masculine—style that we’re used to hearing from politicians: “I don’t think top-down works in America. I think building the middle class, investing in the middle class, making college debt-free so more young people can get their education, helping people refinance their debt at a lower rate—those are the kinds of things that will really boost the economy. Broad-based, inclusive growth is what we need in America, not more advantages for the people at the very top.