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    The Penguins Are Now Doing Dinner Theater

    meerkats.jpgQuote:  A little bit of ‘Desperate Housewives’ meets ‘Father Knows Best.’ ” Billy Campbell, president of Discovery Networks, in the New York Times.

    Figure of Speech: Hollywoodism, a form of periphrasis (per-IH-phra-sis), the descriptive swap.  From the Greek, meaning “speak around.”

    Two filmmakers are shooting competing documentaries about meerkats. The weasely creatures live in the Kalahari desert and dabble in family values while committing adultery and theft — like members of Congress, only cuter.  TV mogul Billy Campbell uses a classic Hollywoodism to describe one of the films, a spin-off of the Animal Planet series “Meerkat Manor.”

    Movies rarely get produced unless they’re “high concept” — based on an idea that even the most dim-witted Hollywood producer can grasp.  So a wannabe filmmaker will pitch a movie as a marriage of two popular films or TV series.  Figaro calls this device a Hollywoodism. It’s a kind of periphrasis, a figure that uses a proper name as a description, or vice versa.  (Find other examples of periphrasis here and here.)

    Penguins we can understand.  But why the sudden interest in temperamental little rat-faced beasts that seem almost human?  We already have Dustin Hoffman.

    Snappy Answer:  “More like ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Rain Man.’ “

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