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    Smells Almost Like Victory!


    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?”

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    Reader Comments (6)

    Heckuva job (as usual), Figaro.
    September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKris S.
    Why, thank you. With comments like that, I'll never withdraw.
    September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

    The entire war on terror is a phony metaphor. Terror is an emotion. Will
    the war on terror be escalated to a war
    on fear? Terror is intense fear.
    Will we ever have a war on sadness?
    September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKirk Muse
    While I enjoyed your book and your articles, your politics are not appreciated. Do you slam only the right, or are you an equal opportunity slammer, criticising both left and right, Democrat and Republican?
    September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEric
    I must defend Figaro, as he is indeed an "equal opportunity basher": a bit over a month ago, in this column, he even-handedly called Michael Moore a "fat slob"; and just a few days ago he parsed John Edwards' porcine political rhetoric. In any case, I think the drift from "victory" to "success" is significant linguistic event, and I thank Figaro for nosing up this
    this rhetorical truffle, and others like it, from the news. (I guess Edwards influenced the imagery in that last sentence).

    That said, I don't know if I'd call "success" catachresis, which is a figure of substitution, where the usage is so odd or striking that it borders on "abuse." Milton's "blind mouths" (Lycidas) is a classic example; e.e. cummings' "the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses" is another. Isn't "success" more of a euphemism? I guess it's a matter of degree, of how far one thinks "success" is from what it feigns to name.
    September 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTy
    Wow, Figaro has the most polite flamers on the Web. It's interesting that we've become such a tribal nation that slamming an incompetent, Constitution-bashing president necessarily makes you a "liberal." (In real life, Figaro is a no-card-carrying independent.)

    As for the president's quote, I'll stand by my catachresis because of the president's far-fetched war-as-banking metaphor. Put it this way: your kid gets her allowance and stores it in her piggy bank. A year later she takes it out and spends it on, say, a few Humvees and Predator drones.

    "Why are you spending that money?" you ask her.

    "I'm not spending it," she replies. "It's a return on success!"

    "What success?"

    "The fact that I'm withdrawing money!"

    Of course, you could call my example a catachresis as well. Go ahead. Slam me.


    September 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

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