Image by vlastas
Someone somewhere is shutting down someone about something. You can be sure of that. Another thing you can be sure of is that it will be worthy of a headline, and sharing on social media. Someone will soon have a full report. Or, more likely, an attention-grabbing headline atop five pithy paragraphs atop a link leading to the something that someone said — in response to something someone else said — shutting down that person, or that person’s argument, probably for life.
Or, until tomorrow, which holds the promise of new down-shuttings that will probably be so completely shutting, so totally downward shutting, that we’ll be so down with them, we might not remember who got shut down the day before. So you need to pay attention. You don’t want to fall behind on who’s being shut down, and by whom.
As a student of words and how we use them, I’m fascinated by phrasings that fall into heavy rotation in everyday language, especially those that become irresistible to headline writers. One such construction inspired the headline of this very blog post. As I understand it, the dynamic often goes something like this:
- Someone says something, typically in an interview, that someone finds offensive, insensitive, tone deaf, in poor taste, or all of the above. Or just plain wrong.
- The comment, perhaps 30 seconds from a 60-minute interview, gets picked up and reported — maybe in context, maybe not — and takes on a life of its own, becoming the only thing anyone will ever remember from the interview.
- Someone who reads or hears the comment responds with a scathing rebuke, a sharp rebuttal, a heartfelt counterpoint informed by life experience, a retort that is shared on Twitter or Facebook or any of a number of social media outlets.
- A blogger with a keen eye for the latest social-media smack-down will report said retort, announcing it to the world with a headline that makes it clear that the response just “shut down” the person who made the original statement.
This doesn’t always start with an interview. Sometimes it starts with a piece of writing. Even given the chance to edit one’s words before sending them out into the world, we say things that cause a stir. But it does seem that interviews are fertile ground for these things, as they often catch the subject off guard, leading to off-the-cuff remarks that can range from merely cringe-worthy to downright toxic.