The most boring word in the English language: sequester.


The word sequester was not often muttered in the English language. That is not until a few weeks ago when the White House started their latest branding campaign. After convincing everyone that we are headed for a “cliff” back in the winter, sequester takes over. Now, I am not bashing the White House, I think both parties in this situation (Hill leadership and the President) are to blame for the current situation. But I do not want to address the current situation. I want to address the word sequester. However, to address the word I must first explain what the situation is just a little bit.

First of all, what is the sequester? This is a question that many are asking and these are people who did read the financial times and also, just don’t seem to care. The sequester is “85 billion across-the-board spending cuts” as explained in Jake Sherman and Donovan Slack’s Politico article Sequester countdown: Obama summons Hill leaders. 

The cuts will deal with everything from National Parks to vaccines for children (and how can you be against those!). These cuts are scheduled to go into effect at midnight Thursday night. I am going to D.C. on Friday morning; perfect timing for what Jon Stewart called the Sequester Apocalypses on his program last night. The President has asked the leadership on the Hill to come to his house (that is the White House) on Friday to meet about it but I agree with Sherman and Slack (article is linked above), this is a move to use his leverage of the spending cuts, already in place by the time the meeting happens, to re-program the system. Brilliant move. But I digress into politics, back to the most boring word in the English language!

If either the Congress or the President wanted anyone at all to pay attention to this, at all, why would they use the word that sounds like it came directly out of an accounting book. At least with the “fiscal cliff” journalists could write headlines like “we are heading towards the cliff.” Those caught our eye. With sequester, making it sound interesting is virtually impossible. There are no images for sequester. Sequester does not sound cool, even though there is a Q in the word! Words with Q get so much traction. So why did both party agree to this terrible branding?

At first when I heard the word all I could think of was the line from the Will Farrell Blades of Glory “no one knows what it means but its provocative, gets people going”(see the line here.) According to, the word sequester means: “to remove or withdraw into solitude or retirement; or to seclude to remove or separate.” But there are so many more fun ways to say those words. Why use a word that, if said more than 20 times, will make me nod off to sleep? Because that is the point.

My theory is that the branding lords of the Obama administration (and yes I do mean lords, these guys are legit the very best) used this so that they could pull a classic “Obama-narrative-re-frame.” Let me clear something up before I explain. I am not insulting the Obama administration or saying “shame on them for framing an issue so well,” what I am saying is they did it very successfully and I am impressed as a student of political communications.

Now for the understanding. By the Obama administration framing this spending cut screw up as “the sequester,” the most boring word in the English language, to all of the media they are able to control the narrative that follows it. Therefore, Obama has been able to do a “don’t cut our spending” tour where he showed all the things we were going to cut, like: battle ships, teachers, vaccines, airport workers, FBI agents, and other terribly important things. I am not going to go into why all these things are important: but they are. Obama knows this. By having the press report on sequester like a boring class which no one wants to hear, he neutralizes the first round of media coverage between him and the House leadership (AKA Republicans). Obama can then come in during the second wave of media and make it about Mrs. Ashley (I made the name up), a teacher in Louisville who will have to be cut because Republicans can’t let the President do his job or do their own job.

Obama neutralizes the Republican response by flooding the media with the word sequester. He then picks up the second news cycle and (to continue the boxing metaphor) K.O.’s the Republicans in the second round. Brilliant.

Can we please move on because I have bored myself to death saying the word sequester so many times.


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