Another Perspective

Word Freight

Swashbuckling in the clouds for political advantage.

By 11.11.09

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Words carry freight. Sometimes it's only the dictionary meaning drummed into us in the past. Other words conjure a picture. Take "swashbuckler." Recently, a popular conservative journal had an article about a coming contest for the Republican state chairmanship. One candidate was described as "swashbuckling." The accompanying head-and-shoulders photo showed a nice looking, well-groomed chap, about 50, in a neat suit and tie. He didn't look like any swashbucklers that came to mind, such as pirates spearing hapless sailors as they invaded a Spanish galleon, or Errol Flynn spearing pirates.

I found "swashbuckler" in a 1931 dictionary: "A braggart; a swaggerer." We'll have to leave it to the Republicans of that state to decide if they want a crypto-swaggerer for a chairman.

The French, who have a way with well-turned phrases, consider all English words to be freight -- actually excess baggage -- when used in their country. Its General Commission of Terminology and Neology, reports the Wall Street Journal, has the responsibility to give proper French terms to things that didn't originate in France. It has been struggling with "cloud computing," the term used for gaining Internet access to multiple resources. Having lost the battle over "le weekend" and "le drugstore," the word scientists of the Commission weren't going to take this challenge lying down. Argue and struggle they did, finally settling on "informatique en nuage" -- computing in (a) cloud.

Meanwhile, back home, there is the word "save." Its primary definition is, "to rescue or preserve from harm, danger, injury, etc; make or keep safe." That is the way President Obama and various of his tribunes have been using the word when they have asserted such things as "we created or saved 640,000 jobs." Recently, they said it was, maybe, "up to a million."

The way statistics are recorded it is fairly easy to measure jobs "created," but how does one measure jobs "saved"? Is it done by compiling press releases ("Company A today announced it would not cut 10 percent of its work force, after all")? No. It is done by guessing, nudging and fudging data. By wrapping actual jobs created, an ascertainable figure, with some imagined number of jobs "saved" by federal largesse, one can inflate the total number so it looks good on the evening news.

The Obama folks have been doing this probably to help us forget their promise back in February that if the Congress would pass the $700 billion "stimulus" package unemployment would not go above 8 percent. This week it's at 10.2.

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden, the administration's cheerleader for jobs "created or saved," with California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger by his side, was again touting the wonders of government spending. Schwarzenegger bragged about "those 100,000 people that have retained their jobs or gotten jobs because of the stimulus money."

At that news, the Sacramento Bee did some digging and reported, "Up to one-fourth of the 110,000 jobs reported as saved by federal stimulus money in California probably never were in danger."

For example, the California State University system reported that it had saved more jobs with stimulus funds than the total saved in Texas and 44 other states. As evidence, it reported that $268.5 million in stimulus money received through last month made it possible to save 26,156 jobs in its system. That is more than half the CSU work force.

Curious Bee reporters found that reality was different. CSU officials, when pressed, confirmed that half their workers were not going to be fired without the stimulus dollars. A spokeswoman was quoted as saying, "That is not really a real number of people. It's like a budget number."

Oh.

How many other agencies in how many other state governments were not reporting "real" people but only "budget numbers"? We'll never know, but we do know the French have a saying for this sort of thing: "informatique en nuage" -- computing in (a) cloud. 

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”