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Sunday, December 18, 2016

On Goats, Donkeys and Charles Dickens

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We've covered a lot of ground here, maybe too much ground. Above and beyond it all, though, I still am plagued by a persistent pet peeve... Which is in nearly all ways better than being plagued by a persistent pet goat.

It's the misuse of metaphors. Can't have it. Drives me nuts.

One of the greatest victims, they say, of this abuse is the fictional character created by Charles Dickens: Ebenezer Scrooge. That's a name we improperly affix to cheapskates, skinflints, chiselers and the like.

By the end of "A Christmas Carol", you ought to recall, the old tightwad had seen the light - or, rather, the dark. Not ringing a bell? Remember, he gave the dopey peasant kid a Christmas goose? (Wot? The one that's big as me?)

That's just a small pet peeve, though. I'm only reminded of it because of the holiday season. I find it annoying, but not offensive.

The messed-up metaphor that most makes me mad is the dumbest, easiest one of them all... One that I had down pat at the age of seven. It's the one about the carrot and the stick.

Everybody blows this one. I'm mystified as to its everyday misapplication, since it seems straightforward enough.

Prominent people routinely display their naked ignorance where the carrot-and-stick metaphor is concerned. They've done it so much as to change its definition. It is referred to now as an "idiom" referencing rewards and punishments.

It is not. The way the pundits use it now would have us believe that there are two choices in a given scenario - the carrot, or the stick. That translates into, "You either take the damn carrot, or I'm going to beat you with this stick."

Uh, no.

It's probably too late now, but it might have been more useful to have called it the Carrot, Stick and String approach. Because the actual idea behind the metaphor is quite simplistic as well as pragmatic, a vestige of humanity's rural upbringing. It goes like this:

If you want a stubborn donkey to move, all you do is dangle a carrot, tied to the end of a stick with a piece of string, in front of him. If he wants the carrot - and he does - he'll have to walk forward to get it but he won't be able to, because you've... Oh, forget it. WHACK (Heeyaw!) WHACK (Heeyaw!! Heeyaw!!) WHACK WHA--

See how badly these things can turn out? It's serious. We could well end up in a thermonuclear exchange with the North Koreans because of something that stupid.

It's not just an opinion, like the idea that we humans peel our bananas from the wrong end, or just plain idiocy like "escape goat". It's more insidious, less innocent, than that.

When will it ever end? Hard to say. Certainly not 'til the cows come home... Perhaps when pigs fly. Or when the chickens come home to roost. Whatever.

pH 12.18.16

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