Pythonic curtain line in the Economist

In the 1/19/19 issue of The Economist, the story (on-line) “Vaccine researchers are preparing for Disease X”, (in print) “The X factor: Vaccine researchers are preparing for the unexpected”, which begins:

Last year the World Health Organisation published a plan to accelerate research into pathogens that could cause public-health emergencies. One priority was the bafflingly named “Disease x”. The x stands for unexpected, and represents concern that the next big epidemic might be caused by something currently unknown.

and concludes:

Success by either group promises to reduce the interval between identifying a virus and running the first clinical trial to a mere 16 weeks. Moreover, because both approaches synthesise the vaccines chemically rather than involving live viruses in the process, a vaccine that did emerge from one of them could then be manufactured rapidly. All this may then eliminate the fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency of unexpected viruses.

Ah, the curtain line (spoken as the curtain falls on the performance): fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency.

Earlier in this blog. in the 4/7/15 posting “Allusion in The Economist”:

Every so often I post here on how some publications (science publications, especially, but plenty of others as well) indulge in various kinds of language play in titles, captions, lead sentences, etc. They are “ludic locales”. Now on the 4th, in the Economist, in a report on Peru: “A jarring defeat: The loneliness of Ollanta Humala”, the story leads with … [an allusion to Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest]

The Economist is ridiculously fond of this sort of jokiness, dropping allusions left and right (unattributed of course), to both high and low culture, to idioms, proverbs and sayings, and so on. In the Vaccine X story, the sting is in the tail. From Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” sketch:

Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency (… and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope)

The Economist‘s readers are expected to be well-versed in the Pythonic canon. And the Hitchhiker’s Guide and the Pooh books and the plays of Oscar Wilde and the Gilbert & Sullivan shows and the Tolkien corpus and the Harry Potter books, etc .– plus great chunks of Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, T.S. Eliot, Churchill’s speeches, and many other elevated items of culture.

One Response to “Pythonic curtain line in the Economist”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I wonder if they ever use my personal favorite curtain line, from the “Anniversary” episode of Fawlty Towers: “Now for the tricky bit.” (Spoken by Basil as he heads into the kitchen, presumably to explain to Sybil why he has locked her in a cupboard.)

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