Quote: “The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is ‘return on success.’” President Bush, speaking to the nation.
Figure of Speech: catachresis (cat-a-KREE-sis), the metaphor gone wild. From the Greek, meaning “misuse.”
Our goal in Iraq is no longer victory; the president didn’t use the word once last night. The goal now seems to be “success” (that word came up ten times). Frankly, that sounds to Figaro like second prize. But wait! Success isn’t really the prize at all. Un-surging Iraq will be a return on a successful investment. Our reward for sticking it out is a withdrawal to troop levels only slightly above last year’s.
Bush pulls off a rhetorical flip with a wildly inappropriate metaphor that turns an inevitable withdrawal into a bonus. We could use the same figure, called a catachresis, to transform the receding flood waters in New Orleans into a “return on success.” Heckuva rhetorical job, Mr. President!
Snappy Answer: “Is ‘return’ a pun?”