David, David, David…

January 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

(originally written June 23, 11:35 pm)

[ from the New York Times ]

I’ve been thinking about idioms a lot lately, specifically about their use, and especially about their misuse. This stream of thought was probably provoked by one Mr. David Brooks and his June 20th op-ed “The Two Obamas.” It wasn’t the content that angered me so, but rather Brooks’ seemingly flagrant butchering of a common idiom: “throw under the bus.” In Brooks’ hands, this became “under the truck.” And it wasn’t just used once, or twice. Six times I cringed as I watched a perfectly useful (not to mention commonly-used) phrase be crippled by someone lucky—and presumably smart—enough to be writing for The. New. York. Times. *Sigh*

It wasn’t enough that Brooks (nor any of his copy editors, apparently) could be bothered to Google the phrase “under the truck”—if they had (as I did, natch) they would have seen that the only use of the phrase that doesn’t involve actual bodily harm was Brooks’ own. No, it was more than that. It was the fact that, just a year and a half ago, a piece had been printed in his OWN PUBLICATION regarding the correct use of the very phrase. The lovely William Safire, author of Sunday’s “On Language,” devoted half a column to “throw under the bus,” and not once was there any discussion of other permissible vehicles under which the victim could be chucked. None. Put that in your (exhaust?) pipe and smoke it, David Brooks!

And so, since this truck debacle last week, I seem to have had an especially keen eye for idiomatic phrases in print. The two that caught my attention today are:

  1. “to the teeth” – completely, lacking nothing. Seen in the NY Times article “So Young, and So Gadgeted” today: a mother of three from New Jersey claims that the family computer is “in my sight, and protected to the teeth.” Am I the only person to whom this phrase is entirely new??
  2. parenthetically” – uh, in parenthesis. Seen in the NY Times article “What’s Obscene? Google Could Have an Answer” today: the defense lawyer in a case that is using Google search trends to gauge community obscenity standards in Florida states that the Google data “can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which, parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed.” This word caught my eye not because its meaning was unclear from context (duh), but because, as someone who favors stating her punctuation choices in conversation (“Let’s do it…exclamation point!”), I am intrigued and enthralled by further forays into verbalized punctuation.

Now that I’ve set up the pattern, expect further musings on language use and misuse in print. Woo!

[ image from the New York Times ]

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