Sunday, May 30, 2010

Visual, Evocative Words to Emphasize Something: “Immaculate Calamity”; “Immaculate Infusion” + Other Inspiring / Humorous Examples

Here are some recent examples of highly effective communicators using a vivid, evocative expression to emphasize something--examples which, I hope, will inspire the rest of us into similarly imaginative use of the language, especially when we are trying to break through the clutter.

1. After listening to testimony from former executives of Bear Stearns and other failed financial companies, Phil Angelides--chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission--expressing frustration in his efforts to get to the bottom of the financial crisis and saying: “It appears to be an immaculate calamity where no one was responsible.”

2. In his most recent weekly commentary on NPR, Frank Deford lamenting that it’s hard to find any sport these days that doesn’t have athletes accused of taking performance enhancing drugs, adding: “Athletes accused of taking illegal drugs are invariably just downright flabbergasted to find out what has gotten into their bodies by immaculate infusion.”

3. When asked whether current counterterrorism methods in the U.S. were adequate to interdict the “newly developing class of terrorists” (probably a reference to home-grown terrorists–people such as the Time Square and “The Underwear” bombers and the Fort Hood shooter), anti-terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, telling NPR on Saturday, May 8:

“I think many of the measures that we have in place, indeed the national security architecture that we’ve created, is really an inheritance from the 9/11 Commission and from the attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 - in other words, nine years ago. We're talking about now, a very different threat and a very evolutionary and dynamic one. What I see as one of the main challenges and indeed, one of the more salient gaps in our national security architecture is who in the U.S. government is responsible for identifying, for instance, a radicalization process, and then interdicting the recruitment of American citizens to become terrorists. And that seems to be something that we haven't both figured out how to do but even more worrisome, who in fact should do it.”

It is because of Mr. Hoffman’s extraordinary precision and vividness of expression that I have long honored him on the home page of my Web site. Also see blog post of December 27’09 about his interview on the BBC.

4. Talking about the recent Greek and euro zone financial crisis during a PBS interview, Mohamed El-Erian--CEO and co-chief investment officer of PIMCO--using a very humorous analogy to explaining why capital that would have gone to Europe is now being diverted to the U.S., thus lowering U.S. interest rates:

“As somebody once said to me, you always want to wear a clean shirt, but there are times you have to settle for your cleanest dirty shirt. Because we live in a relative world, relative to Europe the U.S. looks attractive to foreign investors.

I am afraid Mr. El-Erian wasn’t quite that effective when, moments earlier in that interview, while explaining why investors were nervous about banks that have an exposure to Greece, he compared the function of banks to that of oil in a car. In my opinion, the analogy was much too simplistic and the overall utterance relatively unappealing: “As you know, banks are like the oil in a car--they connect things. If the oil in your car doesn’t work, your car doesn’t go forward. So, there is increased pressure on European banks.”

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