A tired tradition? Defining the union in a word

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:23 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 28, 2014
President Barack Obama has frequently used the word "stronger" to describe the union in his State of the Union addresses. But past presidents have used different terms in their summations. Here is a collection of photos from past State of the Union addresses.

WASHINGTON — Is "strong" losing its strength?

Presidents of both parties have long felt compelled to sum up the state of the union with a descriptive word or two in their State of the Union addresses. Mostly the same word.

More on word usage

The Washington Post looked at words used in State of the Union addresses in history to describe nationalism, issues, foreign policy and more. View the interactive graphic here.

In 2010, The New York Times charted how often certain words were used by Republican and Democratic presidents since President Franklin D. Roosevelt in State of the Union speeches.

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For many years now, "strong" has been the go-to adjective.

Here's President Barack Obama last year: "Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the State of the Union is stronger."

In the earlier years, he went with "getting stronger" or just plain "strong."

George W. Bush liked the one-two punch of "confident and strong."

His president-dad, George H.W. Bush, paired up "sound and strong" in 1990.

Bill Clinton in 2000 promoted the union to "the strongest it has ever been."

It wasn't always this way.

Dwight Eisenhower skipped the quick sum-up. With the nation in recession and millions out of work in 1975, Gerald Ford dared suggest all was not well.

A look at how some presidents past have defined the state of the union:

  • Calvin Coolidge, 1925: "In meeting the constitutional requirement of informing the Congress upon the state of the Union, it is exceedingly gratifying to report that the general condition is one of progress and prosperity."
  • Franklin Roosevelt, 1943: "The state of this nation is good; the heart of this nation is sound; the spirit of this nation is strong; the faith of this nation is eternal."
  • Harry Truman, 1949: "I am happy to report to this 81st Congress that the state of the union is good."
  • John F. Kennedy, 1963: "Today, having witnessed in recent months a heightened respect for our national purpose and power — having seen the courageous calm of a united people in a perilous hour — and having observed a steady improvement in the opportunities and well-being of our citizens — I can report to you that the state of this old but youthful union, in the 175th year of its life, is good."
  • Lyndon Johnson, 1965: "This, then, is the state of the union: Free and restless, growing and full of hope."
  • Richard Nixon, 1973: "The basic state of our union today is sound and full of promise."
  • Gerald Ford, 1975 "I must say to you that the state of the union is not good."
  • Jimmy Carter, 1978: "Militarily, politically, economically, and in spirit, the state of our union is sound."
  • Ronald Reagan, 1982: "In the near future the state of the union and the economy will be better — much better — if we summon the strength to continue on the course that we've charted."

What word would you use to describe the current state of the union? Let us know in the comments below.

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Michael Williams January 28, 2014 | 1:34 p.m.

I would choose the word "weak".

On all fronts.

PS: "Uninspired" might also work.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders January 28, 2014 | 1:56 p.m.

"Voluntary" would be nice, as I tire of always having incoherent politicos holding a gun to my head with the message, "Do as I say and nobody gets hurt!" (of course, that's a lie, as all of their actions hurt someone)

Who amongst you has the right to choose my ruler, again?

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