Foley Fallout’s Long Half-Life

The down-and-out metaphor is in the House!

Late last year, the Metaphor Observatory published its much unanticipated Top Ten List of Metaphors. This year’s list is in the making, and is due to be released around December 28th on this site. If you don’t catch the list, you are bound to use worn-out metaphor, and suffer the embarrassing consequences of being seen in public sporting threadbare figurative language. Girls will tease you, boys will bully you, and your dog probably won’t speak to you anymore.

Topping last year’s list was the word “fallout”, as in “political fallout”. This frog-prince of metaphors has thoroughly enjoyed its notorious reign this year. Once down-and-out, and now all the rage,fallout” was kissed into scandalous royalty by the thousand fricative lips of the press. Metaphor Fallout’s radioactive past life still haunts this life, reminding us of the enduring negative effects of bad news. And, as you’ll see below, haunting is the very hallmark of the fallout metaphor.

This past week, former Rep. Mark Foley has been haunted by the e’er-lingering nucleaphorFoley Fallout” – a universal headline with already nearly a weeklong half-life. Unlike other, more generic headlines, such as “Senate Debate”, this artistic rendering of near-homophone and metaphor is purely by free association. Sprayed everywhere like a diuretic dog’s scent in a fire-hydrant factory, Mark’s illbegotten tag has ensured his place in the thresh of the political doghouse for many long years to come. The press sniffed out the dirty business via stoop-n-scoop methods, and has been pounding this pet story ever since.

Commonly heard: “This story has legs…”

Our interest in this headline has nothing to do with Foley, however, and everything to do with the headline itself: nuclear metaphors are scorching hot. New forms of “fusion” and “meltdown” are appearing every day, with recent inductions V-8′s V.Fusion™ or Dairy Queen’s Chili Meltdown GrillBurger™. Such marketing investments are not made off the cuff. Costing millions of dollars and without a guaranteed return, these are carefully processed, packaged and inspected metaphors. They have to be – the use of the concept “meltdown” can be risky, and may go off in your face.

For example, while spicy foods such as DQ’s chili burger have a longstanding subcultural relationship with gastrocidal fiery metaphors (eg: Volcano, Torchbearer, Smokin’), Canadian Tire’s “Price Meltdown” sale hopes for opportunistic customers to run aloot towards a nuclear catastrophe. Maybe nuclear metaphors are becoming too hot for wordsmiths to handle, and are about to blow out their own contemporary torch. Yesterday, cramming “fallout” tightly into title, Larry King’s topic “The Foley Scandal: Inside the Fallout” wrenched viewers poor brains conceptually inside out.

The Mark Foley scandal comes at a time when a simmering nuclear threat lingers in our minds. Both North Korea and Iran are sitting on untold piles of nuclear material, and much rhetoric in headlines and on soapboxes is distrustful of their respective intentions. Meanwhile, relations between nuclear co-threats India and Pakistan have been strained by actions and accusations. We’re collectively conscious that global nuclear war is anything from a possibility to a likelihood, but certainly not an impossibility. Only we deny that today is the day, and go about our business, seeking escape from this inescapable truth. So it dogs us from periphery and haunts us in the headlines. Perhaps our salivating interest in the “Foley Fallout” headline is because it tolls a bell deeper within. Maybe it has more to do with fallout than with Foley.


Foley Fallout’s Font Decays

After one week of thoroughly contaminating CNN’s coverage, the Foley Fallout headline underwent its first phase of decay. While the “Foley” font was fattened (for political slaughter?!), the word “Fallout” broke down into an anomalous all-lower-case font. Narrow and curvily stylish (with the inclusion of slab serifs and ball terminals, no less), the word “fallout” has perhaps never looked so fancy.

A few days later, the Observatory caught a glimpse of the brief appearance of “Foley Scandal Fallout”, which, like the serendipidous collision that creates a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, leaves our tongues stuck to the roof of our mouths. During weeks prior, “scandal” and “fallout” were separated by at least a colon and as much as several sentences, often trading places in the headlines. The transmutative fusion of “scandal” to “fallout” had a short half-life on The Situation Room, disintegrating back to the “FOLEY fallout” isotope we’d become familiar with.

But don’t expect a quick disappearance of the fallout – the Foley scandal has found itself as number five in a list of voter concerns for the mid-term elections. And North Korea may be at it yet again…


December 8th, 2006, “Foley Fallout” headline makes a brief reappearance on CNN.

January 3rd, 2007: CNN runs headline “Execution Fallout”, referring to the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (no relation to Barak Hussein Obama, who in turn is no relation to Osama Bin Laden, but is only six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, who has no relation to pork-barrel spending, which has apparently replaced Saddam in Iraq).

Leave a Reply