Saturday, January 02, 2010

what's banal

A few weeks ago I did a post on clichés & so perked up a bit on seeing a piece by Ron Rosenbaum in Slate telling us The Catchphrase of the Decade. It's a tour de force of the hot, warmed over, and moribund; up-coming, out-going, and just hanging. He jams it full of every overworked usage imaginable and wants us to know:
It's not a trivial subject. In domestic politics, for instance, we had the misbegotten political framing device public option, which, in masking a complex hidden agenda, baffled even potential supporters. We also saw how misbegotten "philosophical" clichés like the banality of evil continue to cheapen thought. So much can be compressed in an often ambiguous, deceptive way into so few words. And once these words calcify into catchphrases, their influence, left unexamined, can make us stop thinking about what we're saying or say things we don't think about until we catch ourselves and catch on that we've become prisoners of our catchphrases. -- isn't this decade about the things that have been taken away from us? The "holiday from history" after the end of the Cold War. Being able to focus on whether it makes a difference what " 'is' is." (It is what it is!) All that frivolity taken away by 9/11.
My favorite is one I had to look up: "/sarc." or sometimes just "/s".

You can hear Ron Rosenbaum discuss this topic on a radio interview on WNYC 31 Dec: 'Stay Classy,' 'Off the Island': Catchphrases of the Decade Thu, 31 Dec 2009
Have you done any thinking "outside the box" this decade, or encountered any "game changers?" Here to tell us more about the catchphrases that became a part of our lexicon in the 2000s is Ron Rosenbaum , columnist for Slate and author of "The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups." He recently wrote an article about the decade's memorable catchphrases. From the innocuous ("Just sayin"), and the smug ("How's that workin' out for you?") to the spiritual ("It is what it is"), and the stylish ("Stay classy").. there's a catchphrase here for everybody, and a surprisingly apt top pick.

My own imagination not casting up any up-to-date overworkages for inspection, I thought first to offer up some old ones from my tender youth (reet!) but on opening Eric Partridge's A dictionary of catch phrases, I found myself looking at these few with a canine flair:
The dogs are pissing on your bluey (swag). 'Wake up!' 'Something unpleasant is happening to your little world.' 1970s, Australia

The dogs have not dined. Late 19th c.; addressed to one whose shirt is hanging out at the back and therefore inviting the attention of any playful dog.

A hungry dog will eat a dirty pudding. c. 1850; deprecates fastidiousness;

Better than dog-running from Blockhouse, not as good as a run ashore in Instambul. 1971. Means 'fair to middling.' Dog-running is running your sailboat in the morning.

Don't be an Airedale! Early 1920s. Don't be such a bitch.

Anyone who hates children and small dogs can't be all bad (coined by WCF of course)

Busy as a dog building a nest in high grass. Said of someone very intent on a chore.

A case of the tail wagging the ...

Done up like (or dressed up like) a dog's dinner. c. 1945. British Army term for wearing dress uniform.

Like Hunt's dog, which will neither go to church not stay at home. From 17th c. Applies to a most unreasonably discontented person.

I have to see a man about a dog. From 19 c. Answering a question about where you are going when you don't want to say (e.g., lavatory, or out to buy some — prohibition era — liquor).

I might as well plough with dogs! From 17th c. All this is most ineffectual.

Let the dog see the rabbit! or show the dog the rabbit! 1900s-1920s. Let the good times roll.
Rosenbaum's previous piece in Slate was about a catchphrase that's been on my mind lately. In The Evil of Banality, he says
To my mind, the use of the phrase banality of evil is an almost infallible sign of shallow thinkers attempting to seem intellectually sophisticated. Come on, people: It's a bankrupt phrase, a subprime phrase, a Dr. Phil-level phrase masquerading as a profound contrarianism. Oooh, so daring! Evil comes not only in the form of mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash types, but in the form of paper pushers who followed evil orders. And when applied — as she originally did to Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's eager executioner, responsible for the logistics of the Final Solution — the phrase was utterly fraudulent.
I think it's a mistake to believe that evil can't coexist with ordinary (quite banal) civility (as I wrote a few months back). The phrase came to mind last month when I read these last paragraphs in The Journal of Hélène Berr:
The monstrous incomprehensibility and illogical horror of the whole thing boggle the mind. But there's probably nothing to work out, because the Germans aren't even trying to give a reason or a purpose. They have one aim, which is extermination.

So why do German soldiers I pass on the street not slap or insult me? Why do they quite often hold the metro door open for me and say: "Excuse me, miss" when they pass in front? Why? Because those people do not know, or rather, they have stopped thinking; they just want to obey orders. So they do not even see the incomprehensible illogicality of opening a door for me one day and perhaps deporting me the next day: yet I would still be the same person. They have forgotten the principle of causality.

There's also the probability that they do not know everything.

The atrocious characteristic of this regime is its hypocrisy. They do not know all the horrible details of these persecutions, because there is only a small group of torturers involved, alongside the Gestapo. ... They have stopped thinking, I keep coming back to that, I think it's the root of the evil; it's the solidest prop of this regime. The destruction of personal thought and of the response of individual consciences is Nazism's first step. ... The only truthful report worthy of being written down would be one that included the full stories of every individual deportee. ... It must never be forgotten that while it was happening, the human beings who suffered all these tortures were completely separated from people who did not know about them, that the great law of Christ saying that all men are brothers and all should share and relieve the suffering of their fellow men was ignored. Horror! Horror! Horror!
-- (Tuesday, 15 February 15 1944)

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