I’m a little sapped of inspiration today, in fact I’m a little sapped of everything today, but I feel I should post something, so here goes. Forgive me if I’ve long ago missed the boat, but here are some things that’ve bugged me for a while yet have somehow escaped my “ranting.” As you may have guessed, it’s going to be another installment of the blogger’s crutch: language usage diatribe! (“Wheeee!”)

  • Haven’t we as a society grown weary of the idiomatic appendage “…on steroids” to signify something in a more powerful or extreme form? In my experience, the phrasings and comparisons are rarely clever or insightful and it’s so obviously a conceptual shortcut that has outlived its usefulness. To the best of my determinations, its vintage is the the early 1980s.
  • What about the “War on Drugs”? This locution apparently dates from the mid-1970s. I suppose waging or declaring war on something is as equally valid as against something, but the latter seems more precise and less ambiguous, depending on who or what your enemy is. After all, being on drugs is very different than being against drugs. What if we declared War on Horses? Would that declaration still be in effect if we dismounted?
  • Finally, on the same theme, how about the “Drug Czar“? The word czar is ultimately derived from the Latin caesar and is defined as:
    1. also tsar or tzar (zär, tsär) A monarch or emperor, especially one of the emperors who ruled Russia until the revolution of 1917.
    2. A person having great power; an autocrat: a czar of industry.
    3. (adapted from dictionary.com unabridged v 1.1 and The American Heritage Dictionary)

    One would naturally think, then, that a “Drug Czar” would be sort of like an underworld king-of-kingpins or an über-druglord, no? Interestingly, by searching through the New York Times’ archives, I was able to get a sense of the phrase’s introduction to our language. The idea for such a cabinet position in the U.S. government was hatched during the Reagan administration: in the early 1980s it was referred to as “drug czar” (in quotes), by the mid-80s it was beginning to shed the quotes, sometimes appearing as drug “czar.” In the late mid-80s we began to see the phrase so-called drug czar, sans quotation marks. By the end of the decade, the process was complete and Drug Czar officially entered the lexicon as a no-longer-exotic animal. I, however, still think it sounds strange.

    nb: The final sense of czar in The American Heritage Dictionary is: “3. Informal An appointed official having special powers to regulate or supervise an activity: a racetrack czar; an energy czar. ” This seems to me as if it’s come into usage in tandem with the 1980’s ascendance of drug czar.