THE TIME has come to declare war on the violent metaphors that are besieging our language. We must smash them, crush them, track them to their lairs and eradicate every trace. We must not rest until we have wiped them out. They must be killed before they can multiply. Our strategy must be to slash and burn.
But they are wickedly clever, these metaphors. Demolishing their fortresses will not be easy because they build fortresses everywhere: not only on talk radio or in vicious lyrics, but in the ordinary conversation of everyday life. If there is a market for violent language, it is only because we have all come to accept it as normal. Violence done with words has become not merely acceptable, but mundane.
Item: In the fall of 1995, the coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball Association said of his player Kevin Garnett, who jumped directly from high school to professional ball without benefit of college, "With weight and experience, this kid is going to kill people, big time."1
Item: In Suffolk County, Long Island, that same year, the manager of a state legislative campaign threatened to "rip the lungs out" of a man working for the other side.2
Item: Wall Streeters routinely describe people who make bad investments or foolish takeover bids as "having their heads handed to them."3 (This phrase has evidently replaced the less colorful, and less violent, "losing their shirts.") And, of course, there are the "hostile takeovers," which, if successful, may lead to the "dismembering" of the target company, unless defeated by a "poison pill"