Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Semantics Of 'Surge'

It was sad to hear nothing about New Orleans, or the areas of the Gulf coast that were devastated in the storms of 2005, in the State of the Union Speech last night. It seems that we really have been forgotten by Washington. However, there were plenty of references to the idiotic 'Surge' that has been proposed for Iraq. This got me wondering about the term 'surge', itself. In this context, it appears to be such a wonderful euphemism.

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the term has it's origins in old French, and entered the English language in 1490 when Caxton made a reference to "...a sourge of blacke bloode...". Given the use of the term in the current situation, the very early connection between 'surge' and blood is most ironic.

The OED describes the current use of the term 'surge' as being mostly figurative. It says of this use, that it should be understood as being,

" reference to feelings, influences, actions, events, etc.: Impetuous onset or agitated movement. Also, a rapid increase in price, activity, etc., esp. over a short period."

This use entered the English language in 1520, when Whitinton remarked of someone that "He is moost moderate and studyous to auoyde surges of his passyon." This too appears to have ironic overtones in the modern context, given that the War in Iraq is clearly a 'passyon' of the moron in the White house, and almost nobody else.

These historical facts should not get in the way of linguistic progress though. As Wittgenstein famously remarked, "The meaning of a word is it's use in the language". As the Comedian-in-Chief and his lackeys have now brought this use of the term into our language, it seems appropriate to see what wonderful new uses can be made of it.

On the face of it, this appears to be a useful linguistic innovation. For example, the Freshman Fifteen, can now be renamed the 'Freshman surge', presumably to the relief of senior high school students and health care professionals around the country.

It is doubtful whether the increasingly obvious effects of global warming happen quickly enough, to count as a less distressing 'climatic surge'. On this matter, we will have to wait and see. However, the fact that this term is not quite appropriate in this context, is not actually a bad thing. We can reserve the phrase 'climatic surge' for use when we see those scary things people used to call 'hurricanes'.

Another use of the term 'surge' suggests itself in the financial world. The cost of the war in Iraq can now be phrased in terms of a 'fiscal surge', rather than the more worrying sounding 'rapidly and massively increasing budget deficit'. The phrase 'fiscal surge' makes me feel calmer already.

Indeed, if we permit the further linguistic innovation of admitting the phrase 'anti-surge' into the lexicon, then the possibilities appear almost limitless. 'Life signs anti-surge' is presumably what will happen to certain unfortunate soldiers, in Iraq. Similarly, an 'income anti-surge' sounds much more soothing than the old fashioned 'bankruptcy', that many middle class families are increasingly facing, due to the 'surge' in health care costs.

Of course, we could always just abandon such novel linguistic tinkering. Instead, we could try and do something sane about the troubles that the country currently faces. However, where would be the fun in that?

The CP


Blogger Tenured Radical said...

Great post, CP.

Last week on the Lehreer Hour there was an item about building police stations in neighborhoods in Baghdad, and then a longer story about the crime wave in New Orleans, and how the NOPD is operating out of trailers for the indefinite future, since FEMA won't release the funds.


11:18 AM  

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