Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rhymes With Hyperbole

I once had an argument with a colleague at the Daily News Tonight. I don't remember whether I won the argument or lost it, but I think I won it not because I was right, which of course I was, but because I was in the slot. The argument was over the headline on a sports story about some big event, it might have been a Super Bowl or a World Series or a boxing match, and the copy editor wrote a headline stating something to the effect that this was going to be like "World War 3." I also forget whether he used the word "like," but I said to him, "You can't write that."

"Why not?" he shot back.

Now I might note here that this was at the height of the Cold War, or at least during it, since I really don't know where the height of the Cold War was, maybe the Bay of Pigs, or the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane, or the Cuban Missile Crisis -- that sounds about right -- but I digress.

"This is a sporting event," I said. I might have used the word "game." "World War 3, that's atomic bombs blowing up all over the place, nuclear winter, your grandmother evaporating before your eyes, fireballs, hell on earth," and again, I doubt that I was quite so eloquent in my remonstrations.

"It's hyperbole," my former colleague contended.

"Hyperbole? Tell that to the poor schmoes who survived the firebombing of Dresden or the A-bomb at Hiroshima," and again, I'm embellishing my own eloquence here, I'm not even sure I'd heard of the firebombing of Dresden at that point in my life. But the essence of my point was something similar. "Tell them World War 3 is hyperbole."

When two journalists argue, no minds ever get changed, and the winner is almost always the one with the higher standing in the establishment's pecking order. So I'm sure whoever it was I argued with those 25 or so years before has gone on to write a dozen "World War 3" headlines that received nary a second glance from the slot.

I'm not even a hundred percent sure I'm right. I just know I'd never use the term "World War 3" to describe a sporting event, not even Ali-Frazier, Rocky Balboa and that Russian guy with the short blond hair, Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal, Britney Spears-Kevin Federline ... well, maybe that last one ... and if anybody challenged me on it, I'd say "Didn't you ever hear of hyperbole?"

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