Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sandra Ruttan's effective use of an obnoxious expression

My half-cocked theorizing about evolution crowded out at least one other thing I wanted to say yesterday about What Burns Within, so here it is now:

Author Sandra Ruttan makes effective use of one of the most grating locutions in recent English: "You don't get it." That expression embodies many pernicious qualities and practices: snobbery, condescension, sloganeering, infuriating obstinacy, pig-headed stupidity, substitution of put-down for argument, and often sneering political correctness as well.

The character whom Ruttan has utter the expression is a panicked, driven, victimized, vindictive. scheming, manipulative, dangerous sort, just the kind who would shake her head and say, "You don't get it." And she says it at her most panicked, dangerous and manipulative moment. The expression captures the essence of the character, and the character captures the essence of the expression. Ruttan gets it.

What other authors make effective use of grating expressions in this way?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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13 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

... snobbery, condescension, sloganeering, infuriating obstinacy, pig-headed stupidity, substitution of put-down for argument, and often sneering political correctness as well.

Come on, Peter, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think ...

I've been fascinated for some time about how colloquialisms and casual aphorisms often begin as metaphors (e.g. "There's more than one way to skin a cat"), but repetition bleeds the deeper meaning from them.

November 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, what you read here is actually an edited-down version of my comments.

Metaphors often do lose their deeper meaning and thus become safe for domestic use -- dead, as Fowler would have it, until they come into dangerous contact with another metaphor that revives the old meaning and creates a ludicrous set of mixed metaphors. His entry on metaphors in "Modern English Usage" is worth reading.

I don't know if Sandra Ruttan feels as strongly about the expression as I do, but the sort of character in whose mouth she puts it suggests she might be at least sympathetic to my thoughts. That character, by the way, is compelling, almost entirely unsympathetic, but a victim nonetheless and worthy of a discussion all her own, which she may get here one day.

November 08, 2008  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I wonder if it's cruel to mention that in the second book, the character you're referring to earns more sympathy than she was afforded in WBW from the protagonists...

November 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It might not be as cruel as you think, since you do afford her flashes of sympathy toward the end of "What Burns Within." It is a nice tease, though, and, since I have the second book at my side as we speak, I shall be on the lookout for how she is treated.

I once knew someone who had that character's name, by the way.

November 08, 2008  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

OMG, the full name? I feel a bit bad about that.

November 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

First name and last name both. But this was a woman with whom I had only the most casual acquaintance, and it was decades ago.

This was the second time I had encountered a character in a crime novel with the same first and last names as a person I had known. Even odder, that person/character had the same family name as your character. The character was a murder suspect, the author was Dennis Lehane, and the name was that of a former boss's boss of mine.

November 08, 2008  
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November 08, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

http://www.bookninja.com/?p=4721#comments

Some grating expressions.

November 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Damn, I knew looking at that list would be a mistake.

A colleague and I like to kick "it is what it is" around from time to time. As for "going forward" (and "on the ground"), I maintain a file of excerpts from news stories that I call "Bad Enough to be From the New York Times." Both expressions are well-represented in that file.

November 09, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"But this was a woman with whom I had only the most casual acquaintance, and it was decades ago."

"Besides, the wench is dead."

November 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And that was in another country.

November 09, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

We've established we each know the quotation, but do you know where it's from? I confess I had to Google it, and I was a little surprised; the author wasn't who I'd expected it to be.

November 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As is well-established, Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and Yogi Berra are the source of most English quotations worth repeating though, using the same source as you did, I found that this one came from Christopher Marlowe.

November 09, 2008  

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