Sunday, August 05, 2018

Make No Mistake - Another Power Cliche To Shut Down The Opposition

In an editorial by the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) editorial staff today (Sunday), the title, "Setting the bar on homelessness", was followed with a quote that began:
"Make no mistake, the path out of the woods on the issue of homelessness is likely to be a winding one."
There a number of phrases that alert me to pay attention, and not in a good way, but rather in a skeptical way.   
  • "To be (perfectly) honest" always suggests to me that up til now the speaker wasn't being honest. 
  • "The reality is" implies the speaker has a direct line to "the truth" and is now shutting down all opposition, because, well, 'this is what is real,' and whatever anyone else has to say is, what, unreal?
"Make no mistake" is on that list of terms that quickstart my crap detector.  It too suggests, "what I'm about to tell you is the Truth."   If you believe otherwise, you are making a mistake.  (That was my personal reaction, but I double-checked.) 

The Free Dictionary lists definitions from a number of other sources.  They all are pretty much the same.  Here are a few which include some slight variations
  • "What I have said or am about to say is absolutely certain; do not think otherwise."
  • "do not be deceived into thinking otherwise"
  • "used to emphasize what you are saying, especially when you want to warn somebody about something."

I'm not the only one who has a problem with this (now) cliché.  Slate complained already in 2004.
"The current president [George W. Bush] did not invent the phrase, "make no mistake," but he uses it a lot. The search engine for the White House Web site displays 227 instances, and, even discounting for the fact that some of these MNMs emanated from Bush apparatchiks like former press spokesman Ari Fleischer and Tom Ridge, I feel certain that's a gross undercount.
"It's the ripple effect that interests Chatterbox. For 1994, the Factiva news database finds 3,624 MNMs, with the phrase's usage heavily weighted to manly discussions about business or sports. MNMs climbed steadily through the 1990s, adding about one thousand references each year. Since the base number kept growing, the rate of growth actually declined. Then—bam!—MNMs jumped from 9,174 in 2000 to 12,062 in 2001, the first year of Bush's presidency. Last year yielded 13,141 MNMs, and the first four and a half months of this year have so far given us 5,223. Given that this is an election year, Chatterbox wouldn't be surprised to see MNMs break 15,000."
Make No Mistake is a verbal power play.  Note that the grammatical form of this phrase - Make No Mistake - is a command.  A forceful command - the reader is being told what to do.  It adds no content to support one's argument.  It suggests that the speaker (writer) knows better than everyone else.  If someone tells you otherwise, you shouldn't listen.  Sometimes the speaker does know better.  But I'm guessing, it's often just a verbal bluff.

For some, it might just be a filler, like "You know?" or "Um."   In which case it has no meaning at all other than, "Give me a sec to get my thoughts together."

I probably wouldn't have written this post except that on the same page was another opinion piece by a  doctor arguing for the 80th percentile rule used by insurance companies in Alaska when calculating what they should reimburse patients.
"Make no mistake, these are the forces driving insurers to undermine Alaska's 80th percentile rule — they want to lessen their obligations to pay for patient care, narrow their networks reducing your access and choice, and ultimately keep more of the sky-high premiums and deductibles they are charging." 
I'd note that the editorial misused this powerful phrase for a rather uncontroversial point. There was no important point that followed "Make No Mistake."  It wasn't about "the only way to reduce homelessness," or even their desire to keep the government accountable by identifying exactly how many homeless folks live in Anchorage.  Rather it was about their rather tortured metaphor about how difficult the task will be.  Few would argue it will be simple.  Which suggests to me, it just sounded strong and firm to the person who wrote it and that person really didn't even think about how it was being used.  Which raises questions about the actual points they made, which I do have questions about,  but let's save those for another post.  When I have it up, I'll link it here.

Image source

By the way, Frank Wilczek is an American Nobel Prize winning physicist.

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