Quote: “I talk to lots of presidents who would love to disarm, but they’re afraid to do it unilaterally.” Colin Diver, president of Reed College, in the New York Times.
Figure of Speech: auxesis (aux-EE-sis), the exaggerated label. From the Greek, meaning “increase.”
Run for cover! America’s elite colleges are in an “arms race,” according to President Diver. And what are their weapons? Nukes? Gas? Double secret probation?
No, the weapon of academic destruction is merit aid — money given to top students regardless of need. It’s an arms race only in the sense that no college wants to stand down first, for fear of lowering their standing in U.S. News & World Report. Diver is guilty of an auxesis, a form of hyperbole that applies a mountainous label to a molehill of an issue or thing.
While Monty Python used it to great effect, the auxesis is one of the most insidious figures. Left-wingers and Donald Rumsfeld refer to their political enemies as “fascists.” Politicians call criminal suspects “predators.” When this exaggerated labeling becomes prevalent, freedom-loving citizens get turned into traitors and suspects get stripped of their human rights (because they’re not human, that’s why!).
Snappy Answer: President Diver, step away from that figure!