By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Pivoting away from a cliché

The cliché of the 2008 campaign is “pivot,” as in: When will Hillary Clinton drop out so that Barack Obama can pivot to the race against John McCain? Of course, Clinton has now pivoted back to her Senate seat, allowing the media to pivot on to the next story.

According to a LexisNexis search of U.S. newspapers and wire services, the word “pivot” appeared 370 times between Jan. 1 and today in stories that also included the words “Obama” or “McCain.” In the same period during 2004, “pivot” popped up only 147 times alongside “Kerry” or “Bush.” Granted, there’s much more interest this time around, and much more pivoting to be done. But that’s still a lot of pivots.

The New York Times strikes me as a particularly egregious offender. In just the past week, Jodi Kantor has asked whether Clinton would “pivot millions of supporters in the direction of Mr. Obama”; Frank Rich has written of Clinton and McCain’s alleged “inability to pivot even briefly from partisan self-interest”; Maureen Dowd has snickered that Obama had “been trying to shake off Hillary and pivot for quite a long time now”; and David Brooks has opined that neither Obama nor McCain “is planning a major pivot for the fall.”

A quick search of Google News shows that the Times is hardly alone.


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  1. Anonymous

    Dan, you can pivot all you like, but I swear, if I hear the words “Perfect Storm” once more I’ll… I’ll… I’ll something. And it will be a perfect storm of something.

  2. another face at zanzibar

    I wonder whether any candidates plan to leverage this new pivot paradigm.

  3. Anonymous

    I think that phrase is used a lot in the Democratic talking points sent out every day. It’s rubbing off on those who read it.

  4. Ari Herzog

    I enjoy your choice of action verbs in asked, written, snickered, and opined.

  5. Anonymous

    Add to the banned list: “Golng forward.” It means nothing. Just watch the tense of the verb, and this silly business phrase adds no information.”Going forward, we’re going to put this behind us.”

  6. jvwalt

    I’ve often had a similar experience in my own writing: you use a nice word or phrase, it sticks in the front of your brain, and from there it quickly infests your prose. At some point you’re rereading your copy, and you realize you’ve got crabgrass. I can see how the same thing might happen in an office. One writer uses a word, a colleague notices it and finds it useful, and pretty soon it’s all over the place. Also, in the cast of “pivot,” the use of a sports metaphor can give a pasty-faced writer a brief testosterone tingle. Ooohh!

  7. Neil

    Don’t forget “whined”, which means “the person has expressed an opinion with which I disagree”.

  8. Rick in Duxbury

    While “kerfuffle” was around for years, it never seemed to take off until James Taranto of the WSJ Online used it. Now, Jim Braude can’t get a sentence out without using the word.(Not unlike a Channel 7 talking head with “now” or your average teenager with “like”.) Yikes!

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