September 12, 2004

"Wrong direction."

I notice language memes. This morning I was on the trail of "wrong direction," which I know Kerry has been using in his speech this week, but which I've heard in ordinary conversation a lot recently too. Words make me see concrete images, so "This country is moving in the wrong direction" bothers me, because it forces me to picture the country as a car driving on a highway going somewhere and to think of the speaker as having a proper place to drive to that is completely in another place. The speaker--e.g., Kerry--is saying, "Let me drive for a while," and he's planning to turn the car around and go ... where? I don't really know, but it will be in another direction. I know it's just rhetoric, but I find it quite unappealing.

Googling "wrong direction," I run across a website called "Language Monitor," which goes to some trouble to produce a monthly list of political buzzwords. "Swift boats" and "girlie men" are doing well lately. Presumably, "proportional spacing" and "superscript" will make their appearance soon. I'm happy to find this website, but why is the website design so amateurish and annoying? Still, it's worth dropping in over there, if for nothing else than to reinforce what you really already know about the rise and fall of language memes.

UPDATE: The word "across" was left out of the previous paragraph before, making it look as though "I run" the Language Monitor website! Sorry!

ANOTHER UPDATE: According to the L.A. Times, Kerry's recent use of the word "direction" represents a deliberate "compromise" in dealing with conflicting views of advisors about how aggressive Kerry--as opposed to his spokespersons--should be in attacking Bush. Supposedly "new direction" has become preferable to the word "change." It's hard to see why, but apparently they spent some time working that one out.

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