STEPHEN SMITH: Phrases We Should Consign to the Trash
Like many Americans, I listened carefully to President Obama's West Point address on Afghanistan on the evening of Dec. 1.
Unlike most Americans, I don't yet have an opinion about the president's decision to commit 30,000 more troops to that faraway conflict. I don't possess the expertise to make such a judgment or to even make a mildly intelligent judgment about his judgment. For me, and probably for many other Americans, it's a wait-and-see proposition, albeit a costly one.
What I am sure about is this: The time I spent after the president's speech listening to the talking heads was a complete waste.
I've never heard such divergent, predictable opinions. And what was worse than the inane blabber that went on until early in the morning was the use of clichs by experts who are supposed to offer us enlightenment.
Here's a short list of what I don't want to hear ever again.
Light at the end of the tunnel: The first time I recall hearing the expression "light at the end of the tunnel" was when my family would drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike and hit the Blue Mountain Tunnel. The old man would turn on the headlights of the Crosley and say, "In a minute, you'll see the light at the end of the tunnel." It was his idea of a good joke.
Next thing I knew, Gen. William Westmoreland, who was commenting on our commitment in Vietnam, said, "There's light at the end of the tunnel." A few days later, the Tet Offensive began. That's a bad memory. So let's drop this tunnel stuff. History does not necessarily repeat itself, and Afghanistan isn't Vietnam. And there's no light at the end of any figurative tunnel.
Slippery Slope: Listen up. "Slippery slope" is a rhetorical expression that is too often used by pundits who are unaware of what this classical fallacy turned clich alludes to. The expression suggests that the debater -- or in this case the president -- is making a move in the wrong direction, and that once the slippery slope is encountered he will move from one illogical premise to another, from A to B and so forth, until Z, the worst possible outcome, is encountered.
The expression is not meant as a metaphor for or an image of an individual who is standing on a slippery or icy slope and might go up or down, depending on the vagaries of fate. If these cable news folk don't understand the meaning of the expression, they ought not to use it. When they do use it, which is too often, they find themselves on a slippery slope.
Drinking the Kool-Aid: When I was a kid, I lived on Kool-Aid during the summers. My sainted mother would draw a smiley face on the pitcher just like in the Kool-Aid commercials on TV. I loved the stuff, and you could also make Popsicles out of it to enjoy when hunting lightning bugs at dusk. In elementary school, we ate dry Kool-Aid straight from the envelope, and in college we mixed sweetened Kool-Aid with cheap white wine and National Boh and called it Spodie Odie. I don't recommend the recipe.
Shortly before Thanksgiving 1978, madman Jim Jones initiated a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Most Americans had never heard of the Peoples Temple, and we certainly hadn't seen so many suppertime dead since the body bags in Vietnam. More than 900 people, the majority of them African-Americans, died. Many were children. The entire episode was sad beyond words.
"Don't drink the Kool-Aid" or "We're going to have to drink the Kool-Aid" are intended to be clever expressions that illustrate mindless obedience, and O'Reilly has taken to using this clich on "The Factor" to describe liberals who react without thinking.
I regard the expression as disrespectful to all Americans -- and especially to those who lost family or loved ones, many of whom were forcibly injected with cyanide, at Jonestown. Hey, O'Reilly, drop the clich. It's not clever or funny.
Stephen Smith lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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