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A pre-debate guide to BidenSpeak


Vice President Joe Biden has worked to cultivate an identity as an accessible guy-next-door who can effortlessly pivot from lamenting unfair foreclosure practices to reminiscing about the cars he borrowed from his auto salesman dad in his youth.

The son of Scranton cultivated his trademark folksiness over the span of a national political career that started when he was just 29 years old, and endured four decades of Capitol Hill's brass-knuckled floor debates. The experience has yielded a Biden a set of verbal habits that run the scale from being touchingly relatable to being fish-in-a-barrel fodder for Saturday Night Live's writers.

Here's your pre-debate guide to BidenSpeak:

"Literally" = The Tiffany blue, the Nike Swoosh, the Harry Caray specs... His reliance on the "literally" adverb is a Biden trademark so pronounced that its hashtag raced to the top of the Twitter trending list during the vice president's DNC address. At its best, his utterance adds urgency to his message that inspires audiences to fiery activism. At worst, it can be, well, cause for head-scratching. Biden used the word 10 times in his convention speech, at one point uttering it twice in one sentence. His usage ranges from accurate (adv. "In a literal manner or sense; exactly:") to a substitute for near-antonym "figuratively" (adv. "Based on or making use of figures of speech; metaphorical"). An example of the latter: "And the direction we turn is not figuratively, is literally in your hands."

"My neighborhood"= An often-used reference from the Pennsylvania native turned Delawarean, Biden frequently talks about his "neighborhood" as a prism for how middle class Americans view fancy talk from politicians. Example: "A thousand bucks? That's a lot of money in neighborhood!" The list includes Scranton, Claymont, Del. - where his family moved when his father couldn't find work in Pennsylvania - and his current hometown of Wilmington, Del.

"Show me your budget"= Joe Biden's family has, as followers of the vice president well know, a lot of "expressions." His mother Jean favored "God love ya," which Biden often uses on the road. His brother was a fan of "go figure." But the most religiously cited family Bidenism is his father's saying about an organization's priorities. "Don't tell me what you value," he frequently quotes his father, Joe Sr., as saying. "Show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value." In this scenario, Biden's father is often speaking to a fictional friend named Charlie, whose voice closely matches Biden's "generic Republican" impression.

"I love it when these guys..."= Prefacing a statement of perceived hypocrisy by his opponents, Biden will often sarcastically profess his affection for their policy positions. Example: "I love it when these guys say they're looking out for the middle class!" Hint: He does not actually love it.

"A backbone like a ramrod" = Merriam-Webster says the definition of a ramrod is "a cleaning rod for small arms." The vertebrae of the president, per his second in command, is similar.

"Southern Delaware" = Biden is fond of pointing out that his small state of Delaware is a wealthy one that's home to many giants of the banking industry. But he also feels a connection to America's more rural communities via bucolic Southern Delaware, a land of agriculture and country hospitality. After he was accused of making a racially-tinged contraction by saying that Republican policies would "put y'all back in chains," Biden was quick to reference the dialect of the southern part of his home state as the origin of the twangy pronoun. "He's got a new idea for y'all, as they say in Southern Delaware," he said of Romney during a rally in the distinctly un-Southern city of Detroit.

"Caspy the Ghost" = The cherub-like specter who's long delighted children made its debut in Joe Biden's stump speech during a campaign swing in mid-August in North Carolina and Virginia. Referencing his young granddaughter, evidently a fan of the cartoon, Biden often uses the friendly ghost to illustrate why that Republicans fail to understand the policy origins of the 2008 fiscal crash. "As my little granddaughter would say, was it Caspy the Ghost who came along and did this?" says Biden. "Who did it?"