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Sunday, April 05, 2009

On Language: Reset Button - William Safire

The reset button had been pressed, hit or punched into politics on a grand scale in world newspaper coverage of Obama’s upset victory over Senator Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic field in the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucus. On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, London’s Evening Standard reported, “She has tried to hit the reset button and radically change her strategy.” She adopted that figure of speech every time her campaign shifted gears, to no avail.

All this wild diplomatic resettlement caused the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum to write: “Press the reset button. Is there any phrase more enticing in the modern lexicon? We all know what it means: Press the reset button, watch your computer reboot and presto! A nice, clean screen appears, and you start again from scratch. . . .Unfortunately, it is also a deeply misleading, even vapid, metaphor for diplomatic relations.” (I like her choice of vapid, which is not a mispronunciation of rapid; the zingy little adjective comes from the Latin vappa, “flat wine,” and means “insipid, lifeless, wishy-washy.”)


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