Pies Don’t Grow on Trees, Mr. Obama
OK. The honeymoon’s over. With the election a month behind us, I must take up a serious issue with our president-elect.
It’s become commonplace to hear Republicans – who, if you’ll forgive the linguistic stereotyping, are adept at mangling the English language (think of our still-president) – talk of “growing” the economy. Such usage has become epidemic, even though, as any self-respecting dictionary will tell you, you can grow a tomato or a beard, but you can most definitely not grow an economy. It does not mean “expand” or “increase the size of,” and to use it that way is an offense to the ear of anyone who values language. (Oh, sure, this usage has crept into some online dictionaries, but to my mind they are making a mad dash to appear current rather than playing their proper role of protecting the language from reckless evolution.)
This started as a business illiteracy a number of years ago (business-speak has long had only a glancing relation to real English), but it has only recently made the wholesale leap to political discourse. And it made the leap with a vengeance: Over the course of this endless campaign, I winced frequently as one candidate or another, of both parties, committed this assault on our language. But the final, shocking straw came when Barack Obama, responding to a discussion of how to slice the economic pie, promised – I kid you not -- to “grow the pie.”
I almost screamed at the television. No! Pies don’t grow on trees! You can’t plant that leftover piece of apple pie and have a little pie plant in a couple of months.
Obama has been derided for being too much of an intellectual, but in one area, at least, the opposite is true. He clearly needs a remedial course in English.
I really knew I had to speak out when, recently, the great New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote “grow the economy,” and when Robert Reich, the smart former Labor Secretary, committed the same gaffe.
Yes, language evolves. I’m afraid “access” as a verb is probably here to stay, though to my ear it will always be chalk on a blackboard. But “grow a pie”? No, that is too much.
Language matters; sloppy language too often means sloppy thought.
Tags: Obama , Language , Grow The Economy , Grow The Pie , Nicholas Kristof , Robert Reich
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