Thursday, June 02, 2011

Land of the Free, Home of the Bravado

Yesterday in Slate, the ponderous and verbose Ron Rosenbaum burned through his customary three bushels of pixels (I confess I didn't get past the first few paragraphs) to question the wisdom behind Condé Nast's decision to move their high-profile magazine offices from their current Times Square crib. He says, with his customary measured understatement, that their plan to migrate to "the never-ending security nightmare known as 'Freedom Tower' at Ground Zero, may be one of the single most questionable corporate decisions in New York City history." 
Oh, forgive me, right, did I say "Freedom Tower"? Sorry, the 1776-foot tall (take that, al-Qaida! 1776 in yo' face!) replacement for the Twin Towers has been renamed! The false bravado of "Freedom Tower"—especially for a building whose security precautions will make it more like a supermax prison tower—has been replaced (in 2009) by the dignified, nonprovocative reticence of "One World Trade Center."
First of all, I can see it being "one of the most questionable corporate decisions," or "the single most questionable corporate decision." But "one of the single most questionable corporate decisions" seems to me a marble-cheese-type blend of singular and plural--and I hate marble cheese.

Then there is the matter of that "false bravado." Many people (like me) will argue that the term is redundant because the word bravado itself is usually deployed to mean "a false show of bravery." There are others who have no problem with this construction, because they find the definition of bravado to be more flexible, but we can discount their opinions on the grounds that they probably enjoy marble cheese. Either way, though, there is no denying that "false bravado" has the stale odor of cliché about it, and that alone is good enough reason to reject it.

Speaking of Condé Nast publications and clichés, Calvin Trillin wrote a wry little piece in the Globe and Mail awhile back (which I just discovered thanks to the editors of Arts & Letters Daily) called "How I got dirty words into the New Yorker". Trillin is an imaginative, keen-witted writer so I was surprised to find this festival of leaden phrases in one sentence:
I said I felt I had to talk to Mr. Shawn about the quote, which was vital to my story, although I knew he had a lot on his plate and I wasn’t going to get on my high horse if he said no.
"A lot on his plate"? "Get on my high horse"?  I guess even imaginative, keen-witted New Yorker writers can have an off day.