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    Mired Forever in Their Debt

    Washington floats on a fetid sea of clichés. Witness Speaker Boehner calling an increase in the debt limit (that is, permission to pay the bills that Congress already spent) as “a blank check” for President Obama. That’s a rhetorical trifecta: metaphor, distortion, and cliché in one all-too-typical political package.

    So we were heartened to see the House Democratic whip, Steny Hoyer, stand a cliché on its hoary head in the New York Times

    Hoyer: They can’t take
    ‘yes’ for an answer. 

    The congressman is referring, of course, to the GOP, which keeps trying to walk gracefully while the Tea Party clings screaming to its leg.

    To learn more delightful ways to abuse clichés, see the instructions we’ve posted on our sister site, WordHero.org.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    Thank you, WordHero, I did look at your instructions on how to abuse cliches. I'm confused by your first example:

    "When President Obama nominated Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, she responded with a political cliché: she said she was “humbled” by the appointment. Why being appointed to one of the most powerful posts in government is “humbling” escapes me..."

    How could someone be humbled--which, according to my research, means "to be made meek," except by someone or something powerful? Her usage is inarguably legitimate: the Supreme Court, as a court, enjoys unequalled power and prestige, and to be appointed to it could reasonably make even a very successful person feel momentarily meek.

    If this usage, which is both common and correct, confuses you, you must not be familiar with the term "humbled by". If you're not familiar with the term's common usage, I fail to see how you can consider it a cliche. A cliche is familiar by definition.

    The only other explanation is that you are not sincere about failing to understand Kagan's word choice; rather you do understand her but believe her to be feigning humility. Expressing humility as a response to an honor conferred by a head of state is not a cliche any more than any other social ritual. Kagan's response, even if it doesn't express her literal feelings (how would you know, by the way?), acts as an idiom: regardless of its literal truth, the response is customary and thus easily understood. An idiom is different from a cliche, as I'm sure you understand, considering that you use the expression "(it) escapes me" above.

    What did you want her to do, shout, "I knew it! Finally! I totally deserve this! Hahahahah!" ?

    In other words, this is a poor example, and you can't have it both ways.
    September 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkmg
    You can be humbled by, say, Jesus. Or a homeless person. Or by an insult. Being raised in status in society is not humbling. Elena Kagan is not a more humble woman now.

    Yes, it's now a social ritual to mumble the cliche about being humbled. A relatively new ritual that weakly serves as a counterspin to the arrogant, self-important reality.

    But than you for your comment. We're truly humbled by it.

    September 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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