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"I'm a longtime supporter of Governor Beebe, but I must say I was disappointed when I saw in the paper 'Beebe lashes Martin, says hiring illegal.' Heaven knows the secretary of state can be annoying, and I wouldn't have minded 'Beebe pinches Martin,' or maybe even 'Beebe coldcocks Martin.' But lashing is just too extreme." — Mae Day.

Ms. Day is too literal-minded, I'm afraid. Most people probably realized when they saw the headline that the lashing was only figurative, that Governor Beebe hadn't actually chained Secretary of State Mark Martin to the Confederate-soldier statue on the Capitol lawn and applied the whip to him. No matter how much Martin may have deserved it. Rather, the governor had only criticized the lesser official, the lashing done only with the tongue.

Like rap and flay, lash is a word much used by headline writers to mean "express disapproval of." All are dramatic-sounding and, most importantly, short.

"While conquistadors like Cortes and Francisco Pizarro are reviled throughout Latin America for their monstrous cruelty, the somewhat less ruthless but equally brutal Balboa is revered in Panama."

"Less ruthless but equally brutal" — the writer is making a distinction so fine as to be almost invisible. Random House defines ruthless as "without pity or compassion; cruel; merciless" and brutal as "savage; cruel; inhuman." Sounds like six of one and half a dozen of the other to me.

"Mankiw teaches Harvard's introductory economics course; the class is consistently the most popular on campus, with enrollment often exceeding 700 students. All economics concentrators are required to take it, which makes Mankiw's influence particularly far-reaching."

Is an economics concentrator what used to be called an economics major? Can land-grant universities have concentrators, or just the Ivy League?

"John McCain, born in the Panama Canal, and Mitt Romney, born to a father born in Mexico, never faced conspiracy theories about whether they were ersatz Americans or Americans with divided loyalties."

Michael Klossner writes, "Born in the Panama Canal? That must have been traumatic." Indeed. Maybe it explains his picking Sarah Palin.

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