Saturday, January 27, 2007

Curled-lip service

This morning's New York Times editorial page is brimming with language material. Garry Wills has a full piece on how the president of these United States is not, I repeat, not the commander in chief of the country, but only of the Army and Navy (and the National Guard, should they be federalized). He rightly calls this part of the "increasing militarization of our politics". And Maureen Dowd (aka MoDo, a pattern of cropping that other linguistics blogs have treated, I think, but one we'll get to eventually here in Verb Town) has a piece on how Dick Durbin's characterization of Dick Cheney as 'delusional' doesn't begin to describe the situation.

But the main Times editorial stopped me cold, "The Bait-and-Switch White House". They talk some about the recent Cheney interview on Iraq, where he talked about the "enormous successes" of the U.S. in Iraq (see MoDo, above). Here's what made me spill my second Saturday morning Bloody Mary (hey, it takes a while to navigate to the editorial page) all over the Mrs.'s (OK, that's *Mrs.'s, but 'the little lady's' doesn't sound quite right)) favorite lace tablecloth:
Mr. Cheney … refused to pay even curled-lip service to consulting Congress.
My immediate reaction was, 'oh, what a slick turn of phrase' (surely the reaction they wanted). But then, I realized I can't scan that. To get the meaning of 'lip service', lip has to be stressed, but if I stress the lip, then curled has to modify service, which doesn't work. I guess they're trying to decompose lip service into its components, and I don't doubt that this works for some folks, but it feels utterly ungrammatical to me. On paper, it basically works, but I can't possibly read it out loud.

A cursory google search doesn't reveal this phrase showing up elsewhere, but no time to pursue it: I've got the Sports Section to get through this morning.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I can't get that that to work right either, but I tried it on a bunch of folks this morning and they (1) laughed hysterically (so, the editors did a good job in that regard) and (2) didn't seem to find it a problem. One was enthusiastic about it sounding good and others did not complain.