THE RETURN the the regular, monthly Presidential news conference is a good thing, not the least since it provides us a opportunity to instruct the Chief executive, management -- and one another -- top top the usage of renowned phrases.

You are watching: What does keep your powder dry mean

Pleased in ~ the prospect of bipartisan cooperation, chairman Clinton said, ''Now both sides are maintaining their flour dry sufficient to develop the opportunity we have the right to reach a balanced budget agreement.'' Later, he went back to the phrase: ''I would ask our friends top top the Republican side and the democracy who care as passionately as I do, just keep our flour dry.''

His definition in both contexts is clear: ''remain calm, save cool.'' however that is only half the an interpretation of the phrase and also misses the many telling part.

Oliver Cromwell, in ~ the fight of Edgehill in 1642, is supposed to have told his Roundhead troops in that opening fight of the English polite war, ''Put her trust in God, mine boys, however mind to store your flour dry.'' (Nobody composed it down at the time, and also its an initial report came in 1834, yet I say let's provide it come him.)


The Pretender wasn't talk talcum; gunpowder was his subject, and when the powder is wet, the gun does not go off and also the ammunition just sits there. The attraction of the phrase was its combination of what Bergen Evans dubbed ''piety and practicality.'' That mix was recurring in civilization War II in the saying and song, ''Praise the Lord and also pass the ammunition.''

The objective of maintaining powder dried is to be able to blaze away at the proper time. Thus, the expression keep your powder dried is not minimal to ''stay calm'' but carries one implicit, many ominous threat: ''and be all set to blow the enemy's head off at the propitious moment.''

That can not be the message that Clinton, in his bipartisan mood, intended to convey. Top top the other hand, in this tower I'm a lexicographer and usagist, no a mind reader.

Salami in a Spoon

At the yearly conclave of executive heavies, politics powers, scientific Nobelniks and media biggies recognized as the civilization Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, words have historic resonance and also metaphors fly. This to be the year of the ''network society,'' plugging a plugged-in world, and also the netties uncovered it basic to acquire hooked.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's element Minister, held a breakfast for diplomatic reporters and foreign-policy sages. He used a word that he knew would reverberate amongst the hypercognoscenti.


''This will come together a shock,'' he told the assembled strength pack, ''but in the case of Europe, Israel hopes for an evenhanded policy.''


Netties nodded knowledgeably. Evenhanded has long to be a code word in America's Middle eastern diplomacy. Indigenous the 50's with the 70's, State department ''Arabists'' (some of us use that term together a derogation, to mean ''striped-pants pro-Arab cookie pushers,'' but it is borne by plenty of diplomats v pride, to median ''those experienced in middle Eastern affairs'') felt with suave fervor that joined States policy in that an ar was unduly affected by political leaders passionate to curry favor with American pendant of Israel.

The Arabists called for an evenhanded policy, imputing fairness and also impartiality. Pro-Israel advocates, citing America's moral commitment to an island the democracy that was also a reputable strategic partner, retorted that ''what Israel requirements is not a broker yet an ally''; come this group, evenhandedness was a code word made well known by the U.S. Fact finder wilhelm Scranton in the so late 60's for helping the remainder of the human being press Israel for concessions.

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The adjective to be coined by Shakespeare in ''Macbeth'' and also carried an ironic overtone: ''This even-handed justice/Commends the ingredients of ours poison'd chal ice/To our very own lips.'' In Netanyahu's use, it supposed ''Israel is ready to clear up for a same shake from countries usually on the side of the Arabs.'' (Fair shake, one 1830 Americanism, may be a metaphoric extension of the even hand.)

Emboldened by the all set reception the this allusion, the prime Minister -- educated in the united States and familiar through the nuances the the American politics vernacular -- go overboard. Speaking of the means the previous government had do concessions small by little, the charged that the Israeli public had actually been ''spoon-fed through salami slices.'' The push gasped at the audacity that the mangled metaphor, and also Netanyahu responded, ''Do something v that, Safire.''

Right on. The link verb spoon-feed started in 1615 to describe a method of feeding the infantile or feeble. By metaphoric extension, to spoon-feed method ''to describe or guide in small, understandable portions; come make straightforward to swallow and also digest information.''

Salami -- from the Italian salame, ''salted pork'' -- caused a much more overtly politics phrase, salami tactics. Coinage is attributed come Matyas Rakosi of Hungary's Communist Party in 1945; he described the means he overcame his the contrary by gaining it to slice off its appropriate wing, climate repudiate that centrists, until only those left in power were Communist collaborators. The certain Rakosi citation has not to be found, but the phrase's popularizers were surely the columnists Joseph and also Stewart Alsop, who much preferred the striking picture to the bloodless ''gradualism.'' In 1971, Stewart created prophetically in his Newsweek column about Czech politics: ''Alexander Dubcek will definitely not be the last of the liberals to fall victim to the salami knife.''

Both the feeding by spoon and also the slicing v a salami knife are delicious figures of speech, but both in the exact same sentence, as the element Minister belatedly realized, are a lot come swallow.