December 22, 2008

Fun With Verbs

Here’s an interesting moment from FOX News Sunday:

WALLACE: Did you really tell Senator Leahy, bleep yourself?

CHENEY: I did.

WALLACE: Any qualms or second thoughts or embarrassment?

CHENEY: No, I thought he merited it at the time. And we’ve since, I think, patched over that wound and we’re civil to one another now.

I would fully expect Cheney to acknowledge telling Leahy to go fuck himself and be comfortable with it. He’s an adult. While I suppose we ought to expect a certain decorum from our elected officials, history demonstrates that they are every bit has human as the rest of us. That’s a good thing.

What fascinates me, however, is Cheney’s use of the verb “to merit.” Its denotation is “to be worthy of” or “to deserve.” It seems to me, however, that the connotation of “to merit” creates a bit of a klunker, as if someone just smacked an off-key cowbell.

Whereas “to deserve” has both positive and negative connotations, I’m having a hard time thinking of negative connotations for “to merit.” The noun “demerit,” if verbed, would seem far more appropriate — although the klunk would have been intolerable.

So why the choice of “to merit”?

It could be that Cheney uses this verb in place of “to deserve” regularly. In the context of an interview on a “friendly” cable network, however, could he shooting for a particular rhetorical effect? It seems to me Cheney is tidying up his public use of “fuck” and his moment of indecorum. He’s making it Leahy’s fault. He’s also elevating “go fuck yourself” to the level of a reasonable response — even an expected response.

8 Responses

  1. Tim 

    I never understood why this story merited a news event, and still don’t.

  2. acline 

    Tim… The original or this one or both? I would argue that it doesn’t rise to the level of news, except that it did. Like I tell my students: news is what the editor says it is.

  3. Tim 

    Both, in 2004 and again in 2008. But I would expand your “news is what the editor says it is.”

    For some reason, the herd of independent minds demonstrate little independence about what constitutes news. It wasn’t one editor that decided this was news, but many across different media … why? And this has been true for decades, where competitive news organizations repeat the same news in the same way with little independent verification, fact-custodianship or competitive skepticism.

  4. acline 

    Tim… “Editor” in my comment should be understood as a synecdoche. So I agree with you. How it happens is particularly interesting considering that there are no cogent definitions of “news.” What is going on in the herd mind? Gans got a glimpse of it in his book Deciding What’s News. What he saw was a particular culture that is effective in socializing its members. But a definition remains elusive. That’s a problem because you and I might decide a thing is not news, but if the news media cover it then it must be news. And if you complain, well, you’ll be told you don’t know what news is.

  5. Tim 

    Andy, I really wish your last comment had a permalink so I could spread its URL around the web!

  6. acline 

    Tim… Is that a good thing? 🙂 Yes, I need to get that done. I think there’s a widget for it. I’ll check on Friday. If you know of any instructions, please pass them along.

  7. Tim 

    Andy, can you get to your comment.php file? I mentioned this previously.

    If so, look for: <?php comment_date(’F jS, Y’) ?>

    Change it to: <a href=”#comment-<?php comment_ID() ?>” title=”Permalink to this comment”><?php comment_date(’F jS, Y’) ?></a>

    Let me know if you have trouble.

  8. acline 

    Tim… Yes, you did mention this 🙂 Cool. Seems easy enough. Will give it a go tomorrow.