Archive for April, 2008

thrown under the bus.

April 30, 2008

The political world is a virtual gold mine — scratch that, minefield — for Detestable Phrases. And with all the talk of Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright and denouncing and renouncing, it’s no surprise that the blogosphere is ablaze with commentary on the Illinois senator’s move to throw his former pastor under the bus.

As the New York Times noted, even bloggers are getting sick of all this throwing-individuals-under-buses business. “Obama Kicks Wright in the Junk,” John Cole writes on his Balloon Juice site — “because I refuse to say he threw him under the bus, which is now my least favorite expression in the English language.”

Ours too, Mr. Cole.

“Where did it come from?” asks Newsweek, terming it the “leading cliché of the political blame game.” “Why is it suddenly ubiquitous?”

In fact, Newsweek says it better than I ever could, in “Who’s to Blame for ‘Under the Bus’?”

“The underlying principle is simple: once a person says “throw him under the bus,” the phrase lodges itself in the foreground of the mind, where it becomes the first phrase retrieved in conversation. Parrots do the same thing.”

Thanks, Tony Dokoupil, for finally explaining why and how our beloved politicos and talking heads have become spokes(wo)men for Detestable Phraseology. The answer, put simply: They have lazy brains. Let’s just hope superdelegates don’t start drinking the Clintons’ “Recipe for a Comeback” Kool-Aid any time soon, or else we’ll have a bigger viral phrase problem on our hands.


“______ diplomacy.”

April 20, 2008

Despite America’s contempt for international law, the United Nations Security Council and “talking it out” with other countries, there seems to be an awful lot of diplomacy going on.

Take the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea, for example. The Economist called it “cultural diplomacy.” Fair enough — that’s valid. There are even schools for that (see: USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy). The New York Times? “Symphonic diplomacy.” The Boston Globe opted for both “Dvorak diplomacy” and ” U.S. violin diplomacy.” And the Los Angeles Times, currently in the process of being destroyed by Sam Zell, chose simply, “music diplomacy.” These days, it seems that anything is diplomatic.

Pandas, or “panda diplomacy.”

Here is former Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick “being diplomatic” with a baby panda in China. He is now president of the World Bank.

Karaoke, or “karaoke diplomacy.”

Actual CNN caption: “Powell gets in the groove ahead of his performance.”

The list goes on, and it just gets more absurd. Whatever happened to plain, old-fashioned “diplomacy,” hmm? Let’s do ourselves a favor and stop now, before “chow chow diplomacy” and “Dance Dance Revolution diplomacy” become a part of our IR lexicon.

Bring it to the table

April 15, 2008

“What can YOU bring to the table?”

“We all have our own experiences that we bring to the table”

“With his solid background in accounting software, he really brought a lot to the table”

…Such are some of the potential uses of this trite expression.  It is an attempt at adding color and depth to a hopelessly boring dialogue through a very poor metaphor – a hypothetical table around which everyone gathers to place little nuggets of themselves for display.

Well, a lot of folks’ social interactions are not based on a straight-forward regiment as the expression implies. And a lot of us have more interesting regular experiences than sitting around a fucking TABLE. Like making fat kids sing “Dancing Queen” for peanut butter cups. Put THAT on your table.

“Super-Empowered Angry Men,” and other stories.

April 14, 2008

Oh, my dear Thomas Friedman. You and I go back a few years. I was made to read you twice, once in an attempt to classify your “globalization is the new Cold War” foreign policy views, once to prepare for a flat-chested world.

I found neither go-round satisfying (was it good for you?). It’s not that you’re not a bright guy. In fact, I thoroughly admire you for the several years you’ve spent as a foreign correspondent, from Beirut to Jerusalem. And yes, if “wealth of experience” was something measurable in dollars, you would be a globalizillionaire.

But I must say: Your personal anecdotes are suffocating. You are like an international studies undergraduate in a university classroom:

“When i visited Dubai …”
“A funny thing happened in Kuala Lumpur …”
“The Chinese are super high-context …”

And that’s not my only beef with you, Mr. Friedman. There’s something about your phraseology that speaks of true pomposity. Your formula, were it on the side of a shampoo bottle, would be “analogize, capitalize, repeat.” Let’s take your reference to terrorists in your 1999 book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” shall we? For you, they can’t simply be terrorists. Nay, they become pawns in your categorization scheme — “Super-Empowered Angry Men” tricked by the elusive joys of globalization.

Forget the fact that the “Golden Straitjacket” analogy reminds me of golden showers, and let’s focus on the fact that it just doesn’t work. Oh, and I forgot. It’s pompous to capitalize things. It is too reminiscent of the Bible, and I can’t. deal.

This does nothing to diminish my respect for you as an important voice out there, dissecting global affairs and telling us how all the pieces fit together. I’m glad you’re there, writing your own version of what’s what. I just wish you wrote it humbler.

giving it the old college try.

April 10, 2008

what does it mean, to give a thing “the old college try?” is this supposed to be an oxymoron? i ask only because personal experience has shown me that many among the collegiate bunch do not, in fact “try” very hard at anything, unless that “anything” is:

1. boning a hot chick.
2. popping a collar.
3. making grunting noises whilst lifting weights at the gym.
4. drinking to (in)capacity.
5. understanding what dave matthews really means when he sings, “don’t drink the water.” the bong water?

in any event: any insight into the linguistic origins of “the old college try” would be much appreciated. thank you.

heart of hearts.

April 9, 2008

ever heard someone claim to know something for certain, in his/her “heart of hearts?” 

newsflash: they don’t know “shit from shinola” (see 

first of all , this Detestable Phrase violates the laws of anatomical correctness. even the makers of the classic kids-play-doctor game “operation,” who incorrectly constructed their version of the human body with a WISHBONE, fashioned their hospital patient with only one heart. sadly, the heart is “broken,” perhaps because the patient has an unfortunate bowl-cut.  

second of all, your heart doesn’t know things – your brain  does. i tend to think that someone who knows something, in his/her “heart of hearts” doesn’t really know anything at all. all this “heart of hearts” nonsense is probably derivative of the saying “the heart knows,” but honestly, whenever i’ve “gone with my heart,” i’ve mostly just embarrassed myself. 

third of all, this kind of phraseology is touchy-feely tripe. it’s meant as a token of assurance – of certainty – but it never serves to make anyone feel any better about anything. the person who knows something in his/her heart of hearts probably also claims to be  “a little psychic.” oh yeah? well, i’m a little skeptic(al).