Archive for November 16th, 2010

Paul Krugman vs. George Orwell. (Hint: Orwell wins.)

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
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He's right.

Nobel economist Paul Krugman is a smart guy.  So why does he use clichés?  His article today, “The World as He Finds It” refers to President Obama‘s “soaring rhetoric.”  Lordy, I am tired of that term.  A google search for the phrase turned up 136,000 usages for “soaring rhetoric” and Obama — for one suggestive, if not entirely reliable, measure.

To quote George Orwell‘s matchless “Politics and the English Language” (always worth a rereading) this usage falls into a class of “dying metaphors,” notwithstanding its airborne nature:

He's wrong.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically “dead” (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

Thank goodness Krugman didn’t use “progressives” rather than “liberals,” another cliché, or rather, a marketing term, or maybe just wishful thinking.

“Progressive” always assumes you know which way history is going, and are somehow are ahead of it or on top of it.  Unfortunately, we learned in the 20th century that the road of “progress” usually detours towards the gas chambers, the crematorium, the concentration camps, or the killing fields.  I’m not sure that detour is something I’d want to represent.

In other words, it’s a great marketing term … but isn’t that the same as propaganda?

Late night postscript from Jeff McMahon, or rather from Martin Amis channeled by Jeff McMahon: Martin Amis: “To idealise: All writing is a war against cliché. Not just the clichés of the pen but the clichés of the mind and the clichés of the heart.”  [Joseph Brodsky used to call this “the vulgarity of the human heart.”]