When Metaphors Attack

Occasionally, one of my disloyal readers will email me a link to a site that reproduces the Oxford English Dictionary‘s definition of “medieval,” a not so subtle hint to shut up about the word as adjective and to get off my medieval rear and review that King Arthur movie from last year.

So let me cut that off right now by posting the text myself:

b. U.S. to get medieval: to use violence or extreme measures on, to become aggressive. 1994 Q. TARANTINO & R. AVARY Pulp Fiction 131, I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’m gonna git Medieval on your ass. 1996 Rolling Stone 13 July 85/3 And with the metal-on-metal grinding and old-school synth whoops..Faust and O’Rourke really get medieval. 1999 Washington Post 9 May F1, I have no idea why we’re talking about sending ground troops to Kosovo when we can send a fleet of Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators over there. What’s Milosevic going to throw at them–Yugos? These things will get medieval with Yugos. 2000 N.Y. Times 5 May E8/1 The teenage crowd screamed and cheered–but only when Macbeth got medieval on someone.

So yeah, I get it. There is a metaphorical meaning to the word medieval. Duh.

Now, disloyal readers, explain how I’m supposed to keep all the medieval metaphors straight in my head when I read the New York Times’ review of the Hummer H1 Alpha in ‘If Medieval Suits the Mood‘.

That first impression* fits the personality of this positively medieval-looking vehicle.

The H1 Alpha is a castlelike truck that invites the driver to joust with taxicabs. Its cavernous interior evokes torch-lit banquet halls where varlets spear haunches of meat with their knives.

First, the mixed metaphors: It’s a castle! It’s a horse! It’s a banquet hall! And the first two of those within the same sentence.

I guess it must be hard reviewing automobiles for the New York Times. Very little actual information is available to be transmitted to the reader. There’s price, availability, and options. That barely fills up a paragraph. So what better than creative free-association to fill up column inches?

Other things that the Hummer H1 Alpha reminds the reviewer of: a beast, a Starbucks latte, up-armored Humvees, Iraq, a tin-can-in-a-tornado, a Tonka truck, Butler buildings, a tractor, abstinence pledges, and WWII fighter planes.

So yet again, I’m being a killjoy. I like lots of these metaphors, even if I question all of them press-ganged together in the same column. What I can’t understand is why this article was written at all. It takes as its first premise that no reader of the Times will ever drive the thing. Clearly, the author just wants to make fun of the vehicle and the sorts of people who might drive it. This is journalism? It’s like he’s blogging or something.


For the record, I don’t think the thing is very medieval-looking. Unless by medieval-looking, you mean Tonka-truck-looking. It reminds me of something I–circa 1980–would have loved to bury and unbury in my sandbox. **

*The first impression that instead of a winch, the vehicle might come standard with a wench. You know, the sort you’ll find selling turkey legs at your local RennFest.
**See, I can make those sorts of jokes, because I’m not pretending to carry actual information, unlike a Times reviewer.

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