October 2008

Kate Phillips, “West Wing Window Treatments” (The Caucus blog, The New York Times, Oct. 25, 2008)

We’ve often been struck by the cliche on the campaign trail, where a candidate bemoans an opponent who’s already “measuring the drapes” while en route to a bid for the White House or to another higher office….

So, when The Washington Post’s Richard Leiby tried to mine the origins of the phrase earlier this week, with a headline about a “moth-eaten metaphor,” ears and eyes perked up. Especially those of linguists across the country. Our very own Bill Safire, who doggedly pursues the new and noteworthy in political lingo, came up blank when asked by Mr. Leiby about this particular locution. Mr. Safire hadn’t investigated the worn phrase.

But it does date back beyond Mr. Leiby’s search. He ended it at 1980. Then Benjamin Zimmer, a member of the Executive Council of the American Dialect Society and the executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus, took up the challenge.

Read the rest here.