Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Metaphor overload

I'm not very fond in general of hed writers' tendency to overreach for verbs that they associate with the topic of the story -- probably an overdose of auto talks stalling or going into high gear, or one too many smoking bans snuffed out at the ballot box. In this case,* I think it's out-and-out misleading. A "crippling blow" to the public option isn't the image "taking a scalpel to" creates for me. I'm hearing a subliminal "not an ax" after "scalpel" -- a sense of cutting precisely, not swinging away blindly.

I don't think my reading is universal, but I don't think it's unique either. In "Wearing surgical garb and physician's jackets, activists Monday morning called on lawmakers to take a scalpel to their paychecks," we're talking about removing a 2.8% raise. Here's one from across the pond that suggests the caution even more clearly:

It is vital that the budget estimates take a scalpel to public spending in a logical manner that penalises inefficiencies and rewards sectors that are performing well.

It doesn't take long to find "scalpel" used in the sense of wholesale cuts, but the point of a news hed isn't to explore the metaphoric richness of the language. It's to tell me what the hell went on.
* From Wednesday's Atlanta frontpage, but I can't find the story at; do you guys not post stories from the supplemental services?



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