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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Word of the Day: Eviscerate

"But the fight for Florida was largely between Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich. And Mr. Romney overwhelmed and eviscerated Mr. Gingrich."
--"Romney Wins Big in Florida Primary, Regaining Momentum"

"With his resounding victory over Newt Gingrich in Florida on Tuesday, Mitt Romney showed a worried Republican base a side of himself that it has both longed for and feared that he lacked: the agile political street fighter, willing to mock, scold and ultimately eviscerate his opponent."
--"The Political Costs of a Nasty Fight"

Two different front-page articles by two different teams of reporters, both employing the same metaphor to describe Mitt Romney's victory over Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary.  No one can object to journalists punching up their reportage with a well-chosen word, or, as in this case, a metaphorical flourish.  But let's face it: A word like 'eviscerate'--an SAT word if ever there was one--draws attention to itself, and when used twice within a comparatively small space of printed type, begins to tumble toward the realm of cliche.

Literally, of course, Romney did not eviscerate--remove the entrails from or disembowel--the former Speaker of the House.  Would that it were so.  Both articles use the word metaphorically.  But the overabundance of eviscerations on the front page of The New York Times causes readers to consider the metaphorical sense of this word--usually implying a removal of "vital or essential parts"--to such an extent that they question its appropriateness. Did Mitt Romney remove some vital parts from Newt Gingrich?  If so, which ones?  Certainly not his overinflated sense of his own importance, or his gall, or his head.  If anything was removed from Gingrich, it hardly seems like anything he'll truly miss.

I don't blame the reporters.  This was an editorial oversight.  The English language abounds in words to describe what Romney did to Gingrich: crush, thrash, dominate, humiliate, embarrass, or just plain defeat spring to mind immediately.  Colorful language is fun, but it must be used carefully.

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