A linguistic Investigation

The number one song in America right now is ‘We are never ever getting back together’ by the pouty, prolific songstress, Taylor Swift (here’s a video with ransom-note like lyrics only).

It’s a catchy tune; I’m not cool enough to deny this. Remaining uncool, I decided to investigate the lyrics like a forensic linguist would, forensic linguistics being a field with which I am obsessed.

Diagnosis? Disturbing.

Function word saturation = lying

There are 18 instances of the word “we” in this demonic ditty, which accounts for 5% of her overall lyrics. According to James W. Pennebaker, a psychologist who analyses function words (filler words like pronouns and articles) in various texts, the more you use the word “we”, the more likely it is that you aren’t telling the truth. 5% is way above average for “we” saturation in everyday speech: Swift is clearly lying.

Interlocking phrases = kidnapping

According to transcripts of what linguists call threat communication (for example, recorded calls to the police), calls for help display patterns of overlapping and often interlocking phrases. This “he” in this traumatic tale repeats “I love you” whenever Swift picks up the phone.

I say, I hate you, we break up, you call me, I love you

And his pleas have a symmetry not unlike overlapping phrases.

Baby . . . I swear I’m going to change . . . Trust me.

“Baby” and “trust me” have the same rhythm and vowel sounds (practically a palindrome). These are the sounds of pleading (probably to someone wielding a knife).

There are other clues.

We haven’t seen each other in a month

When you, said you, needed space, what?

He needs space, yet he hasn’t seen her in a month? She’s obviously locked him in a basement.

Repetition = manipulation

Repetition is one of the oldest rhetorical devices, used by politicians (who are also often violent criminals). It’s a way to add weight to a statement, where the words by themselves aren’t enough. Repetition can also steer us off the track of the meaning of the words, while emphasising the sound.

Swift says ‘never ever’ about 500 times in this song:

But Oooh, this time I’m telling you, I’m telling you

We are never ever ever ever getting back together

We are never ever ever ever getting back together

You go talk to your friends talk

And my friends talk to me

But we are never ever ever ever getting back together

This is to emphasise both the force of the statement and her distance from her ex (and alleged victim).

Tense discrepancy = murder

She says near the end of the song, “you called me up again tonight.” “Called” is past tense, while “tonight” is sometime in the future, or at best, present. Swift has mixed her tenses, in a way that shows premeditation in an obvious cover-up of her crime.

Court ready

Feel free to use this analysis as evidence. I’m not trained, but I listen to a lot of pop songs.