Irenic vs. Chthonic: What’s in a Word?

A recent piece in the National Review (Biden’s Inauguration Speech Was a Lot Like Trump’s) caught my eye. I’ll leave it to you to read it, but the author bemoans the lack of media cynicism depending on which party is in power.

The author substitutes his own cynicism in his take on Presidential Inaugural addresses since he sees no such criticism by others. He sees a similarity in the speeches regardless of who is making it.

Otherwise, for incoming presidents, the formula is this one:
Whew, things are really bad out there, huh? Way worse than they are telling you.
Luckily, I have all the answers. (Details TK.)
It’s too bad we’re always quarreling. It would be better if we could all unite. Er, behind me.
Now pardon me as I wield the cross* like Father Merrin and wrap myself in the flag like Rocky IV. (*Some Democrats omit this part.)

Kyle Smith, National Review “Biden’s Speech Was a Lot Like Trump’s”
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I think he has a valid point, to a point, but media cynicism, like everything else it would seem, is as partisan in its nature as is almost everything else.

I would argue, and I bet he would agree, there was a great deal of media cynicism with Mr. Trump and, as his article illustrates, we will see a similar cynicism over Mr. Biden. The only difference is the perceived bias of the media outlet involved.

I will also say this, Mr. Biden can use the sins of the previous administration as an excuse only for so long. He is now the President and, whatever the cause of the issues he faces, he must deal with them. Let history assign blame. We need solutions not an autopsy of prior policy actions by a no longer in power President.

But I digress.

The author also injects a couple of interesting words that, for most people, including me, might be unfamiliar. Now I am a big fan of expanding vocabularies. I take some perverse pleasure whenever someone says they had to look up a word in something I write. But such efforts need be used judiciously, no matter how much fun they may be. (I am looking for a way to interject Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (the fear of long words) into a piece, but it will have to wait.)

In the piece, the author described the difference in the media’s portrayal of the two speeches by claiming,

“Biden offered an olive branch to those who didn’t vote for him while Trump rained hellfire. Biden was irenic, Trump chthonic.”

ibid (look it up!)

Irenic and chthonic? Again, I will defer to the ingenuity of the reader to find the meaning. But it gave me pause. Are such challenges to one’s internal dictionary worthwhile or worthless?

There was a famous duel of words between William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, two of the most brilliant writers of the 20thcentury.

Ernest Hemingway: he has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.

William Faulkner on Hemingway

Hemingway punched back by stating that he did not need “ten-dollar words.”

Perhaps they are both right; sometimes simple is best, sometimes challenging is best.

Now the article makes another valid point. Presidents always say similar things at their inauguration, it falls upon us is to hold them to it and measure the promises at the beginning with the reality four years later.

I will leave it to your imagination my opinion of Mr. Trump’s four years. And I hope I can point to the first four years of the Biden Presidency and recognize promises kept, but that remains to be seen and, despite what I am certain will be a round of cynicism from some, I shall be forthright in my analysis.

One thing is certain, much of what a President can or cannot do is mitigated by Congress. Here is an example of my cynicism; one thing motivates most members of Congress, re-election. They spend thirty to forty percent of their time raising money to achieve that goal.

Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla, claimed that in a closed-door party meeting they were told their first responsibility was to raise $18,000 per day. Think about that for a moment. $18,000 a day. Any business with 535 employees bringing in at least $18,000 a day would do well. But in this case, none of the money goes to the employer, it merely sustains the employee. (60 Minutes)

This is what Presidential promises run up against, a stone wall if the agenda doesn’t support the efforts of Congress to stay in their job.

We need to pay attention to what people say and what they do to further those promises.

Sometimes, words fade into history because of what actually happened. In one of his lesser-known quotes, Abraham Lincoln said.

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. 

Abraham Lincoln

What if Lincoln saved the Union without going to war and freeing the slaves? How different would our perception of him be? Or perhaps, and here is the cynicism creeping in, he said this to placate those less fervent for Emancipation to buy himself time to free the slaves once he had garnered sufficient support.

The point being, while words matter, actions matter more, yet actions are often dictated by forces and realities outside our control. One might think of an inaugural address as a battle plan. And, as anyone who has been in combat will tell you, the first casualty in a battle is the plan.

Thus Mr. Biden has set an ambitious plan. And the plan faces challenges not just from outside forces but from our own elected officials driven to surviving in office more than doing the people’s work.

If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then the money that funds the quest for power is the poison coursing through their veins.

Joe Broadmeadow

As an aside, now that the dust has settled to some measure on the events of January 6th, the impending impeachment trial, while demanded by that incident, will yield nothing more than a reinforcement of our partisan divide.

If convicting Mr. Trump assured their reelection, the vote would be 100 to 0, and the same if finding him not guilty. Securing re-election is the only sure way to Congressional compromise.

This impeachment is a necessary exercise, but likely a futile one. Once they finish, we should turn our attention to fixing the broken system rather than seeking vengeance through a partisan infected system on those who trampled on the seat of government. If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then the money that funds the quest for power is the poison coursing through their veins.

Despite my cynicism, I have faith that the four-year experiment in changing the status quo in Washington will be recognized as a failure and inspire a new generation of civic minded Americans to work within the system to change it, for that is the only way change happens for the better.

Anything else is anarchy.


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Banning Banalities: Reclaiming the Language of Expression

Throughout history, certain expressions arise from creativity and twist language into new and imaginative forms.

These expressions gain popularity, peak in their usage, then become almost too commonplace. Therein lies the problem.

I’d like to suggest two we should bury for the sake of intelligent conversation. The sound of these overused expressions tortures the senses.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “awesome” meaning “inspiring reverential awe” goes back to 1598. The meaning of “overwhelming” goes to 1961, and the current weaker meaning of “great” dates from 1980. The term gradually lost its awesomeness over the years.

I say let’s finish it off and kill it. Wouldn’t that be like awesome?

Back in the day

There is no such thing. There is the past, perhaps worth remembering perhaps not, but it seems a poor way to give an example of something better. Upon closer examination, one would inevitably find the memory is clouded by the fog of nostalgia. It may have been different but it wasn’t necessarily better. Live in the moment to make these times memorable, don’t long for a whitewashed past.

We all have words and phrases we fall back on. When these expressions turn into crowdspeak, permeating every conversation, they need to be excised.

What are your most despised expressions?