To Take Red Pen Against a Web of Troubles...Pt. I

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Grammar-, syntax-, style-, etiquettewise, writers, bloggers, commentors and others throughout the InterWeb commit a grievous number of literary sins, and while we accept our inability to rectify this, we do hope that some of our advice will prevent the best of them from committing foolish errors.

So from time to time we shall highlight a certain common error we see epi- and perhaps even pandemic throughout the InterWeb.

Our first attack is leveled toward the ubiquitous "spew."

This has become a popular word in vulgar political discourse--examples are rife--as a violent, derogatory metaphor. But we're not sure what it represents--or whether anyone knows what it represents. This entry from the ABC Political Radar, entitled "Giuliani: Clinton Spewing 'Political Venom' on Iraq," is especially vague. What we believe the headline/Giuliani intended to mean was, "Hillary Clinton Has Cast Unfounded Doubt upon the Progress of the War in Iraq to Further Her Presidential Candidacy."

If "spew" could connote all that, it'd be a wonderful word indeed. Unfortunately, it's used more for force than brevity, and so the content of the article is not made clear. Since the metaphor is unclear, we must attempt a literal translation.

"Spew," when used with an object (in this case "venom"), means, "to eject from the stomach through the mouth; to vomit." So we conclude that: "Giuliani believes Clinton stores 'Political Venom' in her stomach and said that she forcefully ejected it onto Iraq." Right off we spot two errors: 1. Venom is not stored in the stomach. 2. Venom is injected into a victim, as a means of hunting or self-defense; poison is a more appropriate term. So why choose "Venom"? "Venom" sounds more sinister than "poison" or even "rhetoric," and politicians seem especially willing to sacrifice clarity to forcefulness.

Mired between the lyrical and literal translations of this headline, we conclude its true meaning is: "Giuliani: Hillary: Iraq," still, we're not sure.

In fact, wading through our examples, we're not even sure whether the term is intended to be derogatory. The blogger "Truthspew" champions his blog for "Spewing Truth in the face of Lies." Presumably he believes this is good, but we envision the truth as something a tad more pure than semi-digested food, whether or not it decorates the face of its antagonist. But since we've acknowledged "spew" as a vague, perhaps mixed, metaphor, we can't be sure.

And so we implore our readers to either refine it or abandon it. Spew, we admit, is a violent term, but that violence derives from its literal meaning--which is often ignored--and its pronunciation--which is absent in print. Remember:
True force comes from precision of language.