Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cordon sanitaire

Who uses it: Political analysts
What it means: Literally, "sanitary line," a quarantine border; political analysts use it to describe ways of isolating unacceptable opinions or ideologies.
How you can use it: When defending your point of view.

My client Joe Finder uses this phrase today in a very good piece in the New York Times Book Review, speculating about why "literary fiction" no longer considers worldly ambition a worthy topic. Joe's theory is that because ambition, greed and upward mobility are some of the most fertile themes of popular fiction, literary fiction must distance itself by looking to the "higher things."

He makes a good argument, and while I'm always impatient with distinctions between "genre fiction" and "literary fiction," I'd also have a hard time arguing that Gilead and the latest Nora Roberts novel have equal value for equivalent audiences.

Today's term was already in my mind, though, because yesterday the Beas and I visited Pointe-à-Calliere, Montreal's museum of archeology and history. During an outbreak of cholera in the 19th century, Montreal's solution was to cover the city's open sewers... but they kept drinking the water.

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