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Saturday, January 10, 2009


Have you noticed how, in reportage about the nation's current economic troubles, one standard formulation goes roughly like this: "This is the worst recession/economic downturn since the 1930's"?  Isn't this just a desperate attempt to avoid saying, "since the Great Depression"?  Are people afraid that if they use those words it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Is this the business-section equivalent of not mentioning a perfect game when a pitcher finishes the 7th without allowing a base-runner?  Should the Solipsist knock on wood even as he finishes typing these words?  (For what it's worth, he did.  Rest easy, true believers.)

But superstitiously avoiding such locutions is a catch-22.  The greater and more frequent the verbal contortions one goes through to avoid saying the things everyone is thinking, the more obvious those contortions become.  And their very obviousness negates any advantage gained from the original reticence.  Indeed, if you watch baseball, you will note that sportscasters have largely abandoned the injunction against mentioning a no-hitter during a game.  It's a wonder that our other, theoretically more serious news outlets can't bring themselves to abandon their own superstitions. 

Remember folks, in writing, clarity is never a bad thing.  If you're so afraid of mentioning something that you can't bring yourself to say it clearly, don't mention it at all.  In fact, don't be a writer at all.  Certainly don't be a reporter.  To write or not to write is a choice.  But once you've made the choice, clarity is an obligation.

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