Doing battle with language.

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

I’m all for the power of metaphor, but it seems like the folks who write plain old everyday news copy have learned somewhere to “enhance” their work by casting every news event in the terms of a battle, a struggle, a clash, a fight.

Barack Obama “takes it to” John McCain, “pummeling” him in his acceptance speech. Really? I heard a speech full of optimism, idealism, and hope. Democrats “ripped into” John McCain. I hope they didn’t spill anything vital…his VP pick scares me enough as it is. McCain’s been busy “ripping” Putin, Bush, Romney, Clinton, Obama…jeez, the guy must be stopped!

The Clintons “threw a one-two punch” against McCain. Biden, it’s said, gives McCain, a “blue collar punch in the mouth.” The taste of denim? And Biden’s been bashed, and he bashes right back, and I don’t mean a fancy-dress cocktail-party bash, either.

Throughout the debates, the candidates were said to “batter” each other, to “strike first,” to “take shots at,” to “blast”…what’s all this damn blasting? There are “sucker punches.” Someone is hitting someone else “below the belt.” Everyone apparently sanctions “attack ads.” One site asks breathlessly: will Hillary attack Sarah Palin? I think the Alaska governor is now getting Secret Service protection, so that would probably be thwarted. A disgruntled caribou might make some headway, though.

How can anyone from any party have a substantive political discussion amist all this language distortion?

But it’s not just politics. Hurricanes are personified as malevolent, sentient forces, “taking aim” at this coast or that, swerving, feinting, and again with the pummeling and battering. Tropical storm Ike “lurks” just behind Hanna.

It makes me think that the policy of naming tropical storms and hurricanes is a bad idea. Let’s call Hanna “Storm B329X5,” and see how scary it sounds.

Would news writers’ lives become that much more boring if they, uh, merely used words like “said,” “claimed,” “announced,” “charged,” and maybe even “challenged”? Those are words that could bring what’s really going on into sharper focus. It might not make for as compelling a banner at the bottom of the screen, but it might make for a less bruised body politic.