January 4, 2005

Metaphor alert alert.

Best of the Web's James Taranto calls "metaphor alert" on Helen Thomas:
From a column by Helen Thomas, American journalism's crazy old aunt in the attic: "I have observed that whenever a major news outlet is stung with the label 'liberal' and feels the hot breath of ultra-right critics on its neck, it circles the wagons and hires yet another conservative commentator. Take PBS, for example. Running scared after giving [Bill] Moyers the spotlight over the years, PBS made amends by hiring two conservatives."

Stop smirking, James. Your expression "crazy old aunt in the attic" isn't very apt either. People may say "crazy old aunt," but the madwoman in the attic -- a character in "Jane Eyre" -- was most definitely not the aunt!

UPDATE: Since I've gotten a couple emails from people saying that "crazy old aunt in the attic" is an expression they've seen before, let me hazard to guess that if you've seen it before, it's because James Taranto has said it before -- about Helen Thomas. I'm standing by my position that it is a corruption. If you know the literary allusion that's being corrupted, it's quite annoying. You wouldn't accept the expression "the Mother Goose that laid the golden egg" or "he was buried in Harry Potter's field" or "I need to get my Donald Ducks in a row" or "you don't know Jack Sprat."

ANOTHER UPDATE: This post has spawned a lot of email! Okay. I did a NEXIS search of news sources, and came up with eleven uses of "crazy old aunt in the attic" older than two years ago. The oldest one was -- as several emailers suspected -- from Ross Perot. In 1992, he called the deficit "the crazy old aunt in the attic that no one wants to talk about." I still stand by my position that it is a corruption, adopted by those who aren't familiar with a literary character that they should be aware of. If James Taranto wants to appoint himself as a stickler for language usage, he ought to care. He shouldn't want to be the pot calling the kettle black. Or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow calling the kettle black. Or the pot calling Ma and Pa Kettle ... oh, you get the idea.

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