Abuse of Language: SOTU Edition



By Tom Prezelski

Re-posted from Rum, Romanism and Rebellion

In the wake of Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, two reactions stand out, not so much for the degree which they contributed to or failed to contribute to public debate, but for their complete and hollow meaninglessness.

The first has to be Representative Michael Grimm’s (R-New York) by-now-notorious tirade against a reporter. By now this has been analyzed to death, either as an example of racial double standards in the light of the criticism endured by Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman over his rant, or as a manifestation of an unfortunate macho swagger particular to East Coast Republicans, one in which one plays tough by abusing the weak and powerless, whether they be ethnic minorities, the poor, underpaid women, or nebbish journalists who are smaller than oneself. But more than this, what he said was silly.

Specifically, he threatened to “break” the reporter “like a little boy.” Whatever the hell does this even mean? The simile implies that breaking little boys is somehow familiar to him, so maybe he has done this before, or he knows people who do it. More likely, he’s just a preening jackass who said whatever he thought would make him sound like a big man by employing the rhetoric of his (allegedly) mobbed up Staten Island constituents.

The other comes from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who we keep hearing is a thoughtful guy, even though so much of what he says is predictable. Graham declared that “the world is literally about to blow up.” As comedian David Cross once put it so eloquently, “when you misuse the word ‘literally’ you are using it in the exact opposite way it was intended.”


Obviously, Grimm did not mean that he was going to break anybody, and Graham did not mean that he believed that the planet was going to explode like something from a JJ Abrams flick. The problem is that the substance of their words was not nearly as important to them as sounding tough, defiant, or contrary. If they themselves put so little thought into what they are saying, then why should we take them seriously?