Monday, June 23, 2008

Things People Say When They Actually Mean Very Nearly the Opposite

I'm fascinated with a recent upturn in a particular phenomenon of popular language. The true meaning of an expression is not merely modified or flavored or colored to cast the speaker in a better light—but shamelessly mis-stated. A couple of random examples:

In religious/spiritual circles

"I am so humbled..." = "I am so very proud..."
This one drives me crazy. Quite often it is perfectly legitimate that the speaker feel honored, gratified, deeply satisfied with whatever recognition or favorable response has come to him. Nobody would fault him for expressing it as "Thank you! I am so honored...". So why the faux-humility? You're not humbled. When you think you deserve accolades and get the opposite, that's humbling.

In advertising (always a rich source of verbal buffoonery)

"You're pre-approved" = "You're absolutely NOT pre-approved"
You might be approved later, post-approved, but you will in fact jump through many hoops to achieve this status.

"For your convenience" = "For our convenience"
The "convenience" line is usually a tip-off that some customary feature or benefit has been removed. "We no longer serve free ice-water, but for your convenience bottled water may be purchased from the food case."

In general

"It's a win/win situation" = "I will win/you probably won't"
All pyramid schemes and red-hot real estate opportunities are built on this trusty foundation.

"It's not about the money" = "It's about the money"
Nuff said.

I would of course be so humbled to hear suggestions and additions from others...for your convenience.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Chesterton on The World of Obama

Public Radio was fairly breathless all day Thursday as the question "which Democrat will we support?" had been answered at last. As far as most in the media are concerned, the big political questions of 2008 are now resolved. It's time for healing and forward-looking optimism, for reaching out across our differences, working together to elect Obama (virtually a foregone conclusion) in the Fall. And the mood is contagious. All up and down the Malibu beach front broad consensus among ordinary Americans is already palpable. Change at last! Peace and safety! Graduate school, healthcare and hybrids for all! Obama!

For that tiny minority with a rudimentary understanding of the American experiment and a vague consciousness of history, G.K. Chesterton's 83 year old rejoinder is a more accurate assessment of where we may actually stand, and what sort of clouds may be on our horizon. He was addressing those who assume and trust in the notion of inevitable "progress" (Change):
If there is one fact we really can prove, from the history that we really do know, it is that despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been highly democratic. A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.
—The Everlasting Man: Chapter 3 The Antiquity of Civilization 1925