Those of us who love the rich beauty of the English language ought to cringe when we hear the latest criticism of poor Mitt Romney, who can’t buy a vowel, and can’t win for losing.  Earlier this week, he fell into a bit of criticism from the leftist psycholinguistic police when he unintentionally mixed metaphors.  In an economics speech about President Obama, he first grabbed a metaphor suggesting that the term “misery index” would hang like an albatross around the neck of President Barack Obama:

“You remember during the Ronald Reagan/Jimmy Carter debates? That Ronald Reagan came up with this great thing[1] about the ‘misery index,’ and that he hung that around Jimmy Carter’s neck, and that had a lot to do with Jimmy Carter losing. Well, we’re going to have to hang the ‘Obama Misery Index’ around his neck”

The albatross metaphor comes from the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge who wrote:

God save thee, ancient Mariner
From the fiends, that plague thee thus
Why look’st thou so ? – With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

Ah. well a-day. what evil looks
Had I from old and young
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Romney forgot to use the word albatross, though it is clear what he meant: we should hold Obama responsible for the current economic state of affairs.


The second problem is the way the brain works.  By leaving off the word albatross, he ended up stretching the original idea into a different metaphor altogether: the metaphor of hanging.   Something hung around the neck is entirely different than a person being hung or hanged by the neck.   Romney continued:

And, I’ll tell you, the fact that you’ve got people in this country, really squeezed, with gasoline getting so expensive, with commodities getting so expensive, families are having a hard time making ends meet. So, we’re going to have to talk about that, and housing foreclosures and bankruptcies and higher taxation. We’re going to hang him — uh, so to speak, metaphorically — with, uh, with, uh — you have to be careful these days, I’ve learned that, with an Obama Misery Index.

Not only did Romney immediately realize he might be understood, I think it is reasonable to think he didn’t even intend the metaphor at all.   Finally, it is utterly silly and itself contemptuous to take the common idioms of the day and infer some nefarious meaning.  Sarah Palin suffered the same accusations when her campaign website dared used the term “target” – gasp! – to refer to directing attention to a particular candidate for victory.   What Romney said here was harmless, and what he meant to say, even more so[2].

[1] The “Misery Index” (MI) refers to a number equivalent to the unemployment rate and inflation rate combined.    Reagan did use the term against Jimmy Carter, but it was Carter who popularized the term as far back as 1976 against Gerald Ford.  Carter would later be hoist upon his own petard when the M.I. went way up during his own administration.

[2] That a Ron Paul blogger would suggest that this dooms Romney’s campaign is equally silly.  The whole thing will likely blow over in a week or two.


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