Among the possessions I passed along to my nephew David following a recent move was a Royal standard typewriter, circa 1916, that came from my father's typewriter shop. My father's business adapted to the advances made in his time, from manual to electric, then to electronic. But he closed the store with the advent of digital business machines.
In its day, the invention of the typewriter had been to personal communications as significant as Guttenberg's press was to publishing.
When I passed the relic along to David, I said I wanted him to see what the first Internet had looked like. In its time it was a speedy way to move content to an intended receiver -- by snail mail. Western Union telegrams were the Twitter of their day.
Using comparisons such as this help explain the world to my nephew because his still-short life has not accumulated a lot of the context and connections that one gets over time.
Indeed, the typewriters encouraged more people to become writers. They could edit better because they quickly saw what their thoughts looked like in a standardized form, not their idiosyncratic handwriting. Thoughts and ideas were expressed efficiently, with words that got to the point fast.
The same pattern seems to be taking shape now when it comes to digital writing. Since personal expression is available virtually to anyone with a computer, long writing is going by the boards. Too many people have too much to say, and readers have too little time to take it all in. Good writing (messages worth passing along) has become increasingly brief, and key words become definitional.
In the past, several words were used to explain what the speaker meant in a political context. For example, Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, referred to "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals" in reference to the wonks of his day before an appreciative bunch much like the Tea Partiers now.
Today, a more taunting "Man up" takes its place. Even Clint Eastwood's "Make my day" sounds lame compared to "Man up," which is not unlike the hiss by Neytiri, the Na'vi character in the movie "Avatar."
Another political expression, "Grizzly,"gained political currency and meaning during the midterm elections.
Sarah Palin, in the 2008 vice presidential campaign, first used it to refer to "Momma Grizzlies." The expression took on a political life of its own among the disaffected, gaining her some followers.
Newsweek writer Lisa Miller says it means, a "common-sense" conservative woman, someone who "rises up" to protect her children when she sees they might be endangered due to bad Washington policies. She is fearless in taking on any foe. Instead of flight, she will fight and tear the foe to shreds.
The imagery is that of a one-woman gang war.
Simple words and expressions like those can carry a lot of content that resonates and suggests realms and realms of meaning. Otherwise, calling a woman grizzly or a bear is an insult.
But, if the intention is to get beyond taunts, dares and hisses, there's a lesson to take into account from the progressive playbook: less is more.
It's really humane values that make for good political rhetoric that will last over time. Those are the expressions that really matter. That's done efficiently by saying less and meaning more. A few well placed metaphors are poetry to the political mind.
Even an old typewriter can provide that kind of content, which could make the old machines sing again, even over the latest, showy computers.