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A Distorted World

Rosie Right

A reader has pointed out to Rosie that in our present troubles surreal is a word that has been used recently over and over until it has become a cliché. It seemed to this reader that every eyewitness interviewed for TV described the events as surreal.

In this case, Rosie can't complain about overuse. She can't think of a more appropriate word. In Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, the second meaning of surreal is bizarre, fantastic grotesque." — surely exactly what the attacks were.

The first meaning is "of, related to, or characteristic of surrealism."

We can all identify the bombings with Oxford's American Desk Encyclopedia's description of the surrealist movement in art: "Influential movement in 20th century art and literature; it evolved in the mid-1920s from Dadaism [a movement in the arts that mocked artistic and social conventions]. Taking inspiration from Freudian theories of the subconscious, the surrealists used bizarre imagery and strange juxtapositions to surprise and shock viewers."

Perhaps to get a sense of the appropriateness of the word we should look again at the fractured and distorted reality of Salvador Dali's paintings. When we see "Persistence of Memory" with its drooping clocks or Dali's depictions of purgatory or, indeed, almost any of his paintings, it's as if he had a prophetic knowledge of a world we are just now having to face. Unfortunately, surreal, cliché or not, is a word we must use today.

Word from Paris: Any of our readers who also read the International Herald Tribune may note that this paper has dropped the spelling taleban and given in to the American habit of spelling the word taliban. As the Tribune's copy editor noted last week, it became too hard to change the spelling on all the articles the paper uses from U.S. papers.

Incidentally, talib is the Arabic word for student.

Kudos to Secretary of State Colin Powell for correcting himself when he inadvertently called Osama bin Laden a "gentleman." When this happened during a Bush press conference, Powell immediately remarked that it was doubtful one can call a terrorist a gentleman. He quickly changed the noun to guy.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825, ext. 322), letter (1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, Va. 23230), or e-mail

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