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August 29, 2013

Oh By The Way, LV Anderson, Here's the Problem with "It's Like Crack"

It's pretty simple and obvious, really: It's a cliche.

When a metaphor is first introduced, it has the power to make someone consider the ways in which two things are similar. Or it conjures an image in the mind.

A metaphor, used once, or even a couple of hundred times, adds something. It adds meaning. It adds imagery.

But used a thousand times, it no longer conjures any image at all, because We've already seen that.

Let's look at one like "Run like Hell." What does this mean, nowadays? It means nothing at all. It means "run fast," and that's it.

But let's look at the etymology of the phrase. (Caveat: I have not actually looked at the etymology of the phrase.) Originally the expression "run like Hell" was "run like Hell itself is at your back." (Maybe it was, who knows. I'm making this up.) This conjured a potent image of screaming devils chasing a man down when it was spoken. (If it was spoken at all. Which it probably wasn't.) And for the first several hundred times "Run like Hell itself is at your back" was spoken, it was an interesting turn of phrase that actually added to the communicative power of an otherwise-mundane sentence. (More likely, it was spoken zero times and added nothing at all.)

Flash forward to the thousandth time it's said, and "Run like Hell itself is at your back" has now been condensed to "Run like Hell," and it no longer conjures the image of a pack of ravenous demons. (If it ever did, which, let's face it, it didn't.) Now it just means nothing. It means "hey, run faster than normal."

The brain can only be tricked into producing an image so many times. And this doesn't just apply to metaphors of several words, but to individual words.

Did you know that if you say "two" a hundred times quickly your brain will stop associating the word "two" with the concept of the number 2 that the word is intended to conjure? So that "two" stops meaning 2, and starts just being weird squiggles in your head?

It's a phenomenon called Semantic Satiation.

The idea is that the word "two" conjures the idea of the number two by creating a synaptic, physical link between the neurons which store the word "two" and the neurons which store the concept 2. If you force that chemical bridge to be made too many times in too short a period of time, you will burn that chemical bridge out, and, for a time at least, your brain will be unable to link the two concepts, or at least will not be able to link "two" and 2 in time enough to understand.

This may be why writers hate using the same word multiple times in the same sentence, as I just artfully used "time" and "two" two times too many the last time I wrote a sentence.

Say the words often enough, as they say, and the words lose all meaning. Literally true, it turns out.

So that's the problem with "like crack," which frankly I don't even know why we're talking about it because everyone already knows it's a terrible cliche that no longer has any meaning besides "yummy." When the metaphor was first introduced, it was a sort of a cute thing, suggesting that food created a euphoria and capacity for addiction like the most powerfully-addictive drug known to exist.

Several thousand uses of this once-cute metaphor and it means nothing at all.

Now, LV Anderson could have written this, and even could have added -- and she'd need to add this, because leftists don't bother writing at all unless they're scolding society for All The Ways In Which It Has Disappointed Them -- that it's also an insensitive term, as a brief aside.

But then that wouldn't make for a good #SlatePitch, now would it? The problem with everything I've just written is that it's all true (except for the parts I made up, and the dubious science* I've claimed to be iron-clad fact), and things which are true are not interesting to people who live their lives in fantasy, and things which are true are not linkbait.

Thus, LV Anderson reached for a silly joke of a premise which was funny and cute... when it appeared on The Office like five years ago.

In other words, not only is "like crack" now a cliche, but to even note that "like crack" is a cliche is itself a cliche.

Up next for LV Anderson:

Stop Saying "Get Jiggy With it!"

It's Racist and a bit of Verbal Minstrelsy for White People Who Want to Add "Street Cred" With a Four-Word Commitment.

Yeah LV we're not saying that and in fact have not said it since it was fun for six months in 1999.

And that's how you write a toss-off article about cliches without embarrassing your family.

* Although I think it's real. Sometimes I will see a word and it will suddenly appear strange to me. Because all of a sudden I am seeing the word itself and not just the concept I've trained my brain to associate it with.

I mean, like look at these squiggles which I'm about to write. Don't think of the concept; just look at the squiggles themselves:


All of a sudden it looks weird, doesn't it? And you start going "wooorrrrdd, that's so weird, man!"

Pot smokers do this a lot, and I think what must be going on is that the THC is interfering with their neuron links so that they're suddenly realizing that the signifier ("word") is not the signifier (the concept of word), and it's just weird.

We go through most of our lives automatically liking "word" with a cloud of mental associations. When the curtain is suddenly pulled back, and we see that the word "word" has nothing inherently to do with the concept of "word" at all (except for, you know, being one), it's a... well, it's a trip, as the kids say.

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posted by Ace at 02:46 PM

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