Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Poetics of Beaurocratese

For more than a decade now, I've been noticing the spread of a curious usage amongst them that rule over us. For an instance I'll turn to the departing Donald Rumsfeld. On several occasions he's told journalists about the "Iraq room" in the Pentagon, where top officials gather to "look at the metrics on Iraq."

And I'd be the first to say how happy I'd be if top officials in the Pentagon were gathering each day to scan Iraqi verse, but in fact all that Rumsfeld means is that these officials look at various measures. Or (since we're not talking feet here) measurements. What Rumsfeld's sentence SHOULD mean is that the officials are examining the parameters for measuring, but his usage suggests that "metrics" has come to mean the measurements themselves.

Now this usage has slopped over into yet another register of discourse, and the pols today consistently talk about "the optics" of one thing or another, by which they simply mean, "how the thing looks." But, being the absent-minded sorts they are, many of the pols forget mid-sentence what their jargon means even to them, and so I have heard one politician, speaking of the public reception of Republican scandals leading up to the recent elections, remark that "the optics don't look good."

and by any measure, they don't--

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