Is Stuttering the Tribute Cynics Pay to Sentiment?

A Gawker article about the fakeness of the DNC resonated with me.  But the author makes the following puzzling claim:

“Michelle Obama stutters. She does not have a stutter. She stutters on purpose. “I-I-I, I’ve seen it in our men and women in uniform.” “Fr-from the young person with so much promise.” “And-and, even as a kid…”

It is a studied stutter, deployed in order to build sincerity. It is not so much a rhetorical device as an acting device. The same could be said for the presentation of almost all political convention speeches. And it is, at its core, sad.”

I too am turned off by the conventions of our conventions, and believe the RNC (and now the DNC) to be manipulative, peacocking displays. It an excellent trend that Americans increasingly agree with me and turn off their TVs rather than watch the pageantry.  However, I’m puzzled by the claim that false-stuttering will make listeners more, not less, convinced of the First Lady’s sincerity.  The research I’ve seen tends to the opposite conclusion.  Indeed, this paper claims that even mild stuttering would be a serious impediment for a politician, let alone his or her spouse.  Is there actually evidence that a mild stutter makes speakers seem more sincere?


[Update: edited for clarity.]

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. 952012 says:

    Isn’t it fairly common to stutter when nervous even if you do not have a perpetual stutter? I know I have at times stuttered when called on in class and placed on the spot, but I am otherwise able to speak fine.

    Perhaps Mr. Nolan is right and the First Lady does not have a stutter and is simply acting; but I’m missing why we should accept his statement as fact. I can’t say I know enough about the author to take his word for it. Is there something I am missing — is he some sort of speech pathologist?

    I had never heard of faking a stutter — and like you say it doesn’t seem like it would be helpful for a politician to have a stutter; so this seems bizarre to me.

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    I think it’s supposed to simulate emotional strain. You’re so moved you can’t speak properly…

  3. Dave Hoffman says:


    I get the proposed mechanism. But my point is that the evidence suggests that stutterers are negatively perceived, so if the DNC’s overlords were as cynical as the post’s author suggests, and were at all competent, this wouldn’t be the maximizing strategy.

  4. AGR says:

    The person would not just have to be a speech pathologist, he’d have to be a mind reader to know whether the stutter was emotion- based or faked. He’s probably not a fan of Michelle Obama, and has decided to attribute a negative motive to behavior that could originate from more than one source. I know people who have no stutter normally, but do it when they become excited. I doubt if the person writing on Gawker spends enough time with the First Lady to know her speech patterns intimately.

  5. Matt says:

    Only slightly related to the claim that stuttering would make one seem more convincing, but while reading (slowly) Bart Schultz’s massive biography of the great philosopher Henry Sidgwick (_Eye of the Universe_), I came across the claim that Sidgwick, who was universally thought to be one of the best conversationalists around, “…was often complimented for deploying his stammer to enhance the effect of his wit, turning a kind of physical resistance into a triumph of intellect.” I don’t think, however, that there’s any evidence that Sidgwick (or Michelle Obama) were in fact intentionally using a stutter to achieve this effect. Simply, I thought it interesting that people do seem to project this idea on others.