talking points

A clear and concise list of ideas making up a politician’s main arguments in a speech. They’re typically used as a guide and not read word-for-word.

William Safire noted that he first heard the phrase as a White House speechwriter when President Nixon would often say, “Never mind preparing formal remarks for this bunch, just give me a page of talking points.”


Empty or nonsense talk.

In 1820, Rep. Felix Walker from Ashville, North Carolina justified his long-winded and somewhat irrelevant remarks about the Missouri Compromise by arguing that his constituents had elected him “to make a speech for Buncombe.” One member said that his pointless speech “was buncombe” and soon “buncombe” became synonymous with vacuous speech.

As the new meaning of buncombe grew in use, it was eventually shortened to the now familiar word “bunk.”


A rousing political speech that galvanizes a crowd to take action.

The Word Detective notes the term is “one of those grand old words that have traveled so far from their origins that nearly all traces of their beginnings have faded from popular culture.”

Slate: “The term dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when the stem-winding watch came into vogue. The newfangled timepiece was a vast improvement over its predecessor, the key-wound watch, because the mechanism for setting it was a stem actually attached to the watch, rather than a key that was easily and frequently misplaced. This technological advance was so widely appreciated that, by the end of the 1800s, the term stemwinder had taken on the figurative meaning of ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding,’ or, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, ‘a person or thing that is first rate. …'”

Checkers speech

The Checkers speech was a nationally-televised address made by Sen. Richard Nixon (R-CA) on September 23, 1952 as he was fighting to retain his spot on the national Republican ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

Nixon had been accused of improprieties relating to a fund established by his supporters to reimburse him for his political expenses. In an attempt to stem the controversy over the fund, Nixon spoke to about about 60 million Americans about his humble upbringing which led to an outpouring of public support for him. He was retained on the ticket by Dwight D. Eisenhower who won the election in November 1952.

During the speech, Nixon said that regardless of what anyone said, he intended to keep one gift: a black-and-white dog which was named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the address its popular name.

The speech was an early example of a politician using television to appeal directly to the electorate, but has since sometimes been mocked or denigrated. “Checkers speech” has come more generally to mean any emotional speech by a politician.