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A Case of Linguistic Atavism (“kick the can down the road”)

The utterly fatuous and stylistically odious phrase “kick the can down the road,” to which the American media cling as a phraseological cliché with such tenacity, might be explained as a case of linguistic atavism, specifically as an infantilistic predilection for the alliteration of the two /k/’s of kick and can. Additionally, with the metrical substrate of phraseologisms always a potential motivation for their preservation, the one at issue falls into a trochaic pattern, namely a bipartite structure consisting of two feet each, with the second foot in each case being truncated by one syllable. Given the general lack of sophistication in media speech, the lure of an infantile variety of paronomasia is evidently difficult to keep at bay.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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