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Last Words - Testing the Waters
by Alec McEwen

MIXED, MUDDLED, AND MADE-OVER METAPHORS. CanadExport, a federal government publication, warned that Canadian firms wishing to take full advantage of overseas business opportunities "must get in on the ground floor and maintain a high profile. Some are already doing that ... others shouldn't hesitate to test the waters." Although the companies that remain on the apparently inundated lower level might hope to attract a flood of orders, those seeking a more prominent exposure would be better advised to climb upon the roof, where they could at the same time proclaim their merits from the housetops.

"Some bears threw in the towel" was a Toronto newspaper headline that declared not the triumph of Goldilocks but the response of certain stock traders to a rising market they had expected to fall. Taken in context the announcement may have been only slightly puzzling to the uninitiated. But a Calgary psychiatrist was surely guilty of a lapsus linguae when, in a newspaper interview, he questioned the validity of Statistics Canada suicide rates by cautioning, "It's dangerous to jump to conclusions."

A book reviewer in paragraph magazine referred to Sir Philip Sidney as having "met his Waterloo charging a line of muskets, protected only by his sword and a suit of armour." To meet one's Waterloo means to suffer a decisive defeat, not necessarily involving the loss of one's life. While it is true that the Elizabethan soldier-poet died of blood poisoning from a battlefield wound, it seems hardly appropriate to describe his fatality in terms of Napoleon's downfall more than 200 years later.

Government departments and other public bodies not noted for corporate efficiency often borrow from the more enterprising business community a supposedly slick terminology, among which downsizing, fast track, and mission statement have a popular currency. In his effort to resist further budget cuts for the CBC, on the grounds that it cannot be treated like an ordinary commercial firm, Chairman Patrick Watson is reported to have argued that the "private broadcaster's bottom line is the bottom line." This cryptic profundity, suggestive of a quotation from Gertrude Stein, evidently implies that private business is mainly concerned with profits, rather than service. Nowadays, the actual bottom line of a company's financial statement probably shows a loss instead of a gain. But the main objection to the phrase is its overworked application to any sort of situation where one's final position or point of view is sought or offered, regardless of whether or not it refers to a balance sheet. Bottom line also describes the lower portion of fishing gear; in either case it should be thrown overboard and allowed to sink out of sight.

In an issue of the Writers' Union of Canada's newsletter, an author remarked that when it comes to film rights, "Somehow we book writers fall between the cracks." Since the space separating cracks is usually occupied by solid material, writers incapable of performing psychic teleportation. are more likely to pass through the openings. Perhaps the author meant between two stools, indicating the failure through vacillation to decide upon a course of action. Originally, that expression was applied to a victim who, through accident or practical joke, tumbled while in the act of sitting down. In the quaint language of a medieval English proverb, "Betwen two stolis, the ars goth to grwnd."

DEPLORE. Among the many vigorous reactions to CBC Television's "The Valour and the Horror" was a resolution passed by the Canadian Centre of International R.E.N., deploring "the dangerous precedent" set by the Senate subcommittee on veterans' affairs in holding hearings concerning the authenticity of the program. Although most dictionaries still accept the verb deplore in its old sense of expressing grief or mourning, the modern. tendency is to use the word as a mark of deprecation. An unfortunate example of possible ambiguity is found in Tennyson's line: "Where shall we lay the man whom we deplore?" from "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington." Today's reader may also be startled to learn from Sir Samuel Baker, the Victorian explorer of the Nile sources and the first European to encounter Lake Albert, that he named the great African lake after the Prince Consort, as "an imperishable memorial of one loved and mourned by our gracious Queen and deplored by every Englishman."


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