Meditation on Hackneyed Metaphors

On 3/9/11 Andrew Sullivan posted at “The Daily Dish”  <http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2011/03/q-1.html>  his distinction between NPR/PBS and Fox News, between bias and propaganda respectively:

“… I don’t doubt for a milisecond – and never have – that NPR and the NYT have often profound biases to the liberal side of the equation. I’ve long argued that they should admit it and move on. But I don’t get the sense from watching PBS or listening to NPR that they take it as their guiding mission to push for a particular political party or rig the news to inflame a political party’s base. I think they still try to aim for fairness and the truth. I truly don’t believe, with a few exceptions that this is the case with FNC. I think it’s a political operation using the guise of “journalism” to advance a cause and a party; I think NPR is a news organization with a political bias.”

I endorse this pithy dualism.

Nonetheless, I object to Dr. Sullivan’s start: “… I don’t doubt for a milisecond – and never have – that NPR and the NYT have often profound biases to the liberal side of the equation. …”  I have never grasped the “side(s) of the equation” metaphor.

As subterfuge to simulate mathematical literacy not possessed, such invocation of equations probably does no harm.

Still, what is being equated to what in this trope?  If the metaphor suggests that NPR = Fox News or that PBS and the News Corporation are alike, then the metaphor gainsays Dr. Sullivan’s point.

Beyond contradicting his thesis, “… that NPR and the NYT have often profound biases to the liberal side of the equation …” suggests equipoise or counterpoise that I find hard to discern.  In what sense(s) are “the liberal” and “the conservative” balanced or static, as the metaphor of an equation might betoken if it meant anything?

All writers traffic in hackneyed words and phrases, but only hacks traffic in clichés that contradict their contentions.  Andrew Sullivan is no hack, which is why I read him daily.  He and we should rethink familiar phrases, as Orwell advised us in “Politics and the English Language.”

Orwell advised as well that we keep our prose simple and straightforward.  Andrew Sullivan should have settled for “… NPR and the NYT exhibit liberal biases … .”  That, and not the rest of the above, is what he meant and all he need state.

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One Response to “Meditation on Hackneyed Metaphors”

  1. Etymology of Hackneyed « Politics and Language Says:

    […] Bill recently wrote a post about hackneyed metaphors, and it sent me to the Oxford English Dictionary online to take a whack […]


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