Hyperbolic metaphors

Frank Bruni in an op-ed column in the NYT yesterday, “Nazis, Lynching and Obamacare”, beginning:

You might think that the methodical extermination of millions of Jews by a brutal regime intent on world domination would resist appropriation as an all-purpose metaphor. You might think that genocide, of all things, would be safe from conversion into sloppy simile.

You’d be wrong.

Bruni catalogues an assortment of ravingly hyperbolic similes in recent times, mostly (but not entirely) associated with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Comparisons to: Nazis and the Holocaust, lynch mobs, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, slavery, and hostage taking.

Bruni continues:

We’re awash these days in metaphors as overworked as our political debate is overwrought, and it’s impossible not to wonder how much one contributes to the other. When nuance and perspective exit the language, do they exit the conversation as well? When you speak in ludicrous extremes, do you think that way, too?

… The hyperbole and hysteria make any constructive debate impossible, and they insult the past, robbing important events of the specific meaning and individual detail they deserve. Consider our recurring “-gate” mania. We equate each new scandal, whether extra-large or fun-size, with Watergate, and by willfully misremembering President Richard Nixon’s crimes, we dilute them. It’s just a suffix for the taking

The cheapening of the -gate libfix has been noted many times by many people; see discussion on this blog here.

One Response to “Hyperbolic metaphors”

  1. Briefly noted: uncivil political discourse | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Frank Bruni is correct to argue that elected leaders, and average citizens for that matter, should “watch our words” so that passionate arguments about politics don’t go over the top (“Nazis, Lynching and Obamacare,” column, Oct. 8 [posted on here]). […]

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