Friday, February 23, 2007

Colorless green ideas

The NYT was late this morning ... just arrived, in fact. I like the OpEd page on Fridays, because Paul Krugman's a good read. When he does economic stuff, it's like what linguists need in terms of public voices in prominent media outlets: a top academic who can speak to a broad public effectively.

But today's column is called "Colorless Green Ideas", leading me to wonder if he'd taken up our battle. Alas, it's a column about environmental policy (= green ideas) and how important nitty gritty but not-very-sexy (= colorless) policy decisions are.

There's a whole cult around the phrase colorless green ideas. (Unlike the editors at BBC News, you, gentle reader, can use google, and other search engines too probably, so can easily track down zillions of them.) But I don't ever recall seeing it played with quite this way.


Ben Zimmer said...

I think I know where Krugman (or his headline writer) got the idea. See this from last Sunday's NYT Book Review (Jim Holt reviewing Michael Frayn's The Human Touch):

Philosophers these days rarely write fat tomes taking on the whole gamut of philosophical themes: space and time, language and truth, determinism and free will, consciousness and the self. But this is what Frayn has done, with immense erudition (especially linguistic) and more than a dash of wit. Remember “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” the famous sentence Noam Chomsky offered as a paradigm of grammatical nonsense? Well, Frayn has no trouble figuring out what it means: “Uninspired ecological proposals, we understand after a couple of seconds’ thought, lie dormant in spite of the anger that gave rise to them.”

Mr. Verb said...

Brilliant! (In several senses.) Thanks.