Plums and Persimmons
Language guru (and former speechwriter) William Safire did his New York Times Magazine column on transition language this weekend, and gave some love to the Plum Book and the Council for Execellence in Government's Prune Book, noting that:
Plums are the delicious fruit of the political tree. In 1885, the Pennsylvania boss Matthew Quay is said to have coined the phrase â€œshaking the plum tree,â€ updating the previous â€œpersimmon tree.â€ When a generation later William Allen White, editor of The Emporia Gazette, asked the presidential candidate William Howard Taft how he got started in politics, Taft replied, â€œI always had my plate the right side up when offices were falling.â€ It was natural to call the book of political plums â€œthe plum bookâ€ informally, and in 2000 a creative designer introduced a plum-colored cover.
It's a good column, but it's a reminder that every so often, commentators beyond our own good-government circles get startled awake and remember that the government is operating along out there, beyond the Sturm und Drang of the political season. And when they do, they feel compelled to translate the workings of government for their readers as if they're describing something very exotic, rather than the services our tax dollars pay for. Clark Hoyt, the Times' public editor, has written that many readers are sick of coverage of political races, and would prefer coverage of the actual issues at stake in the elections. Perhaps now that the election is over and the new administration is beginning, the Times will give their readers some good stories to go with their etymologies.