Fad Phrases

If you follows the news, you might have noticed a phrase in speeches, articles, and commentaries. It’s “game-changer.” Right now, this phrase pops up in communication about foreign policy, national security, and war, meaning that something new or different as a decision or action will fundamentally shift the nature or state of things. President Obama has repeatedly invoked the phrase when talking about the chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. Israeli spokesmen used the phrase in explaining why they bombed a shipment of weapons moving from Syria to Lebanon. (A fad phrase like game-changer can be an aspect of short-hand thinking, which I’ve discussed in a previous post.)

There have always been these phrases. I’ve just discovered that in 1862, as the congressional election neared, the phrase “fire in the rear” appeared in public discourse. This referred to the possibility that Democrats in the north who opposed Lincoln’s war policies and who might incite violence against Republicans in northern states. Lincoln himself mentioned “fire in the rear” not long after the Democrats won five states from the Republicans in 1862 election.

“Narrative,” “game-changer,” “the people’s business,” and, from some years ago, “fire in the rear,” we like using shortened expressions to communicate longer ideas and points.