The Political Fashionableness of Latin

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By way of some morning levity, I thought I’d pass along this headline from the Fall River Herald that caught my eye: “For classicists, ‘quid pro quo’ is music to the ears,” for a story from the Washington Post news wire.

They could have chosen “this for that.” Or possibly even “tit for tat.” But instead, Democrats and Republicans alike decided to go with “quid pro quo” as the defining term for the central accusation of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

They disagree, of course, on whether an illegal quid pro quo occurred, but have embraced the alliterative Latin phrase as the lingua franca for the debate. Now all that remains is the ultimate political thumbs up or thumbs down decision.

For people thoroughly convinced that the mainstream news media is — to varying degrees depending on region — an active wing of the Democrat Party machine, articles like this appear to be a sly effort to push impeachment.  The presentation is of a light article about linguistic fashion, but what it accomplishes, politically, is to give readers the sense that the impeachment effort is about something real (the Democrat position) and to explain a key phrase for people who aren’t familiar with it.

My awareness of this phrase goes back at least 25 years, for a reason that affects my impression of the news media’s efforts.  During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, news stories were repeatedly framed so as to make him seem out of touch.  One example was a news cycle about how he’d been like a stranger in a strange land at a grocery store, when really he’d been expressing due admiration for some new checkout technology that was cutting edge at the time.

I remember distinctly the coloring of the press when President Bush stated, in response to some faux scandal, “There was no quid pro quo.”  The implied commentary of the news media was so strong as to carry across decades of memory:  “What is this strange phrase, and who even talks like that?”

Vulpes pilum mutat, non mores.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    Anyone who has been to law school recognizes “quid pro quo”, “res ipsa locquitor” and a number of others.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I am reminded of a newspaper article years ago, when Bill Weld was governor of Massachusetts. He used the term “a sea change” and was criticized for being so “yachty”. It is, of course, a quotation from Shakespeare, no reason for a “journalist” to know that.

    • Christopher C. Reed

      Of course. Shakespeare* is a dead white male, and thus anathema in the Current Year.
      *pen name of Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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