Joe Biden´s inauguration speech

The following sentence of Joe Biden’s inauguration speech immediately caught my attention:

But the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us, on we the people who seek a more perfect union.

Alarm bells started to ring in this teacher´s head because normally you wouldn´t say “depends on we” but: “depends on us”. Then I realized it was done on purpose to evoke the beginning of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union”

 

This preamble or introduction of the U.S. Constitution summarizes the who, why and what:

– who is adopting this Constitution: “We the People of the United States”,

– why it is being adopted: “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”

– what is being adopted: “do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

All throughout Joe Biden´s speech* this preamble pops into memory. Let´s have a look at the different parts (words in white are parts of the preamble, Biden´s words are in italics):

form a more perfect Union: Unity is the central theme of Biden´s speech. Here are just two of the countless examples where unity is called for

And unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.

uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face (nice alliteration)

Another remarkable phrase uses the opposite of union: Disagreement must not lead to disunion

establish Justice: The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.

insure domestic Tranquility: And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

And here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.

provide for the common defence: I will defend the Constitution. I’ll defend our democracy. I’ll defend America

promote the general Welfare: We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward, reward work, and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.

secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity: That America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world. That is what we owe our forebears, one another and generations to follow.

My dear reader, this comparison is not exhaustive in order not to bore you 😉 but it shows that the inauguration speech nicely covers all the points of the Constitution´s preamble.

*) You can find the complete text in this link  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/us/politics/biden-inauguration-speech-transcript.html

Please, sorry and thank you

When you are learning a language it is very easy to be misunderstood. For this reason I want to talk about «please», «thank you» and «sorry», without a doubt the three most important words in English communication.

Please

In English culture it is very easy to offend people by speaking to them without the proper politeness. You don’t say «sit down», that would be an order! By saying «Please sit down» it becomes an invitation to join you. Often foreign travellers don’t know this and they encounter unfriendly faces or responses to simple questions like: «Where is the railway station?» or «Can we have a double room?». It makes a big difference if you ask the same questions in a polite way: «Please, could you tell me where the railway station is?» (or even better: «Excuse me, could you please tell me where the railway station is?») and «(Excuse me) can we have a double room, please?». Without the please something is missing. If you enter a pub and order «a beer and a coke» it is possible that the bartender keeps looking at you because in his opinion you haven’t finished the order. It’s not that he is consciously waiting for you to say «please», but he is expecting you to order something more like a bag of crisps. By saying «A beer and a coke, please» you make it clear that that will be all for the moment. And when it’s time to pay, you of course ask: «Excuse me, can I have the bill, please?».

Sorry

Sorry is another essential word, especially in British English. Never say: “What?” or “What did you say?”. If you don’t understand people say: “I’m sorry?”, or: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand”, otherwise it sounds really rude. A second situation in which the use of sorry is important is as an apology. Always say sorry when you bother people, even if you can’t help it. So for example when you pass in front of people in a cinema, or if you gently push aside someone’s shopping trolley in a supermarket, or if you’re leaning towards someone in an elevator in order to push a button. And don’t be surprised that when you by accident step on someone’s foot, he or she, so the victim, will withdraw his or her foot saying “sorry”! But please don’t forget too say so yourself too!

Thank you

Last but not least you have to use “thank you” a lot. It’s a very useful phrase when someone does you a favour. If you don´t say “thank you” people will think you have bad manners. So say “thank you” when someone gives you directions, when a waiter serves you your drink, when someone moves over in a full train to offer you a bit more space and when your landlady offers you a biscuit with your cup of tea. You will see, being polite is more important than speaking correct English. As long as you are polite people will forgive you your grammatical errors and make a bigger effort to communicate with you.