Here's another snappy catchphrase for the rest of us: “Duck and cover"by Sam Leith / September 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Are we all still here? I write in optimism, because there’s nothing that dents a magazine’s circulation and a columnist’s potential readership like the world having been bombed into a patchwork of greenly luminescent basketball pitches. And at the time of writing that is the route down which we seem to be heading. Or so excitable headlines—and the excitable communiqués on which those headlines are based—seem to suggest.
“Fire and fury” is what the 45th President of the United States of America promised, in a press conference sally against the leadership of North Korea. “North Korea… best not make any more threats to the US. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Leaving aside the hair-raising geopolitical/diplomatic/game-theoretical—or, as you might call them, “kaboomy”—implications, one has to admire a catchy turn of phrase delivered off the cuff.
Fire and fury don’t just alliterate; they enact a turn: the first vowel sound twists from the high-pitched “I” into the lower—and hence more threatening—“u.”
That’s all accomplished within a consonantal framework that allows the words to play off each other: the metaphor (fire) and the thing it’s a metaphor for (fury); the literal thing (atomic fire) and the emotional state (fury) that brings it about. And “fury” carries in it an auditory ghost of its near-rhyme, “fiery,” yoking the two terms closer together. I think Gerard Manley Hopkins would have been rather proud of it.
It has a biblical ring to it, quite in keeping with the Hopkins flavour. Isaiah 66:15, in the King James Version: “For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” That said, Donald Trump, unlike his predecessor (steeped in the Baptist tradition of politico-religious oratory via Martin Luther King), does not have a ready habit of quoting scripture.
He may, rather, have come to the style of the phrase via another obvious ancestor: the hitman Jules, played by Samuel L Jackson, in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Shortly before popping a cap in some unfortunate’s ass, Jules quotes a version of Ezekiel 25:17: “I will strike down upon thee [sic] with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord…