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Unless you live under a rock, you have likely heard the phrase “Fiscal Cliff” quite a bit recently.

It refers to what could potentially happen if Bush-era tax cuts expire and several spending cuts, including to the Defense Department, kick in. The combination of higher taxes and budget cuts will reduce the deficit but could thrown the economy back into a recession. Unless President Obama and the lame-duck Congress act before the end of the year, we are told, the nation will tumble off a very steep fiscal cliff. Cue the Road Runner cartoon.

The very term “Fiscal Cliff” drives Anat Shenker-Osorio crazy. True disclosure: Anat and I live in the same north Oakland neighborhood, and she is a friend. But she’s also a powerhouse in the world of messaging.

A strategic communications consultant and cognitive linguist who studied under George Lakoff, Shenker-Osorio has made a career of studying language and how it affects how people reason about the economy, recently laid out in her recently published book  “Don’t Buy It: Talking Nonsense About the Economy.”

“The problem with fiscal cliff is that it conveys something natural, not man-made,” said Shenker-Osorio. “This is a manufactured problem. Also, it brings in a major fear factor and a now-or-never temporal element: you fall off a cliff at a certain moment and you die.”

Shenker-Osorio notes that some folks on the left are recommending the phrase “fiscal showdown.”

“This is good in that it eliminates the natural element,” she said. “Showdown is two dudes at the OK Corral, not a rock formation from the glaciers. But, it still leaves in the dire consequences notion. My pick would be ‘fiscal crossroads.’”

She’s also got issues with the “Grand Bargain” – which, she argues, isn’t much of a bargain. To learn more, her last Bay Area book talk is this Thursday, at the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco: http://www.milibrary.org/events/dontbuyit

 

Dana Hull Dana Hull (244 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.