What is the ‘vertical pronoun’? Meaning explained amid DeSantis win

Bruno Cooke November 10, 2022
What is the ‘vertical pronoun’? Meaning explained amid DeSantis win
Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images


Ruetir and Newser both reported on November 9, 2022 that Ron DeSantis had been advised to “avoid the vertical pronoun” in his speeches – meaning what, exactly?

DeSantis won reelection as Florida governor this week. 

In his victory speech, he said Americans had “seen major challenges for the people of our state, for the citizens of the United States, and above all, for the cause of freedom” during the past four years.

But “Florida held the line,” he said. He described his state as a “refuge of sanity.”

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

What is the meaning of the phrase ‘vertical pronoun’?

The vertical pronoun, also called the perpendicular pronoun, is the word “I.”

As a word, or single letter, “I” stands vertically. It is also perpendicular to the line of text, hence its alternative name. Pronouns are words like “he,” “she,” “they” and “we.”

People have written extensively about the so-called vertical pronoun in the past. The New York Times, for example, published an article questioning whether or not it was “such a capital idea” in 2008.

“Why do we capitalize the word ‘I’?” it asked. “There’s no grammatical reason for doing so, and oddly enough, the majuscule ‘I’ appears only in English.”

Devotion | Final Trailer

Devotion | Final Trailer

Why has the vertical pronoun come up in news discourse in the context of Ron DeSantis?

As mentioned above, two outlets have written about advice reportedly given to Ron DeSantis to “avoid the vertical pronoun” in recent days.

Since the vertical pronoun is the word “I,” avoiding it means to refer to oneself less – to make oneself the subject of one’s sentences less.

The New York Times article above invites readers to consider other languages, in which there is no capital letter on the personal pronoun. The fact that our common language gives whoever is speaking a capital letter suggests something about how we perceive ourselves, the Times proposes.

And the US Air Force has written about “avoiding the vertical pronoun” too. In a piece published 12 years ago, it argues that we can learn a lot from a particular sergeant’s “humble ability to avoid the vertical pronoun.”

Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Does DeSantis’ victory speech even contain that many instances of the ‘perpendicular pronoun’?

Not really. He didn’t use it at all until more than two minutes in.

He started by thanking his voters and noting, as mentioned above, the “major challenges” Floridians and Americans have faced over the past four years. After much talk of “weathering storms” and delivering on promises, he said he wouldn’t have been able to see the “level of accomplishments” he saw without the “outstanding personnel” he works with.

DeSantis also made a point of saying Florida is “where woke goes to die.”

In sociopolitical contexts, being woke means being alert to injustice in society, especially racism.

“I just want to let you know,” he went on, “I am honored to have earned your trust and your support over these four years.”

His signing-off paragraph was the most densely packed, regarding the vertical pronoun. It contained six instances of the word. There were 13 in total, during the course of his speech. Interestingly, there were 33 instances of the word “we” in his victory speech – nearly three times as many.

Who is Ron DeSantis’ wife Casey, the woman who stood beside him during his speech?

Jill Casey DeSantis, née Black, is a former news and TV show host. She’s currently the first lady of Florida. 

Born June 26, 1980, she is 42 years old, and graduated from the College of Charleston with a BS degree in economics.

She minored in French; she and Ron met on a golf course, while he was a naval officer at Naval Station Mayport.

They married in September 2010 and have two daughters (Madison and Mamie) and one son (Mason) together.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.