A phrase for Cosby? – “a darker shade of black”

The richness of a language lies not only in the number of words it commands but also in the manner in which they can be modified or combined to convey some nuance of meaning and which nuance is then understood as intended.  The modification of or combining of words can be by following existing rules or current conventions of usage and even by the breaking of current conventions. A new modification or word combination only becomes part of the language if

  1. the intended meaning is successfully conveyed, and
  2. the usage of the new word(s)/usage spreads.

Thus while reading about the collapse of the House of Cosby as story follows story about his predatory behaviour with younger girls, the words of one of my favourite songs from the 60s came to mind – Procol Harum’s “A whiter shade of pale”  which was a thinly disguised song about a drunken seduction.

And so it was that later,
As the miller told his tale,
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale.

What the word combination “a whiter shade of pale” conveys depends on how it is interpreted in the recipient’s mind. Part of the impact of this song at that time lay in the strange and psychedelic pictures that that particular phrase conjured up. And it triggered for me the thought that Bill Cosby’s past behaviour was proving to be “a darker shade of black”.

And so it was that later,
As the facade began to crack,
that the soul of William Cosby,
showed as a darker shade of black.

Both these phrases use the powerful linguistic trick of invoking something impossible – a state beyond some absolute limit.  The listener/reader gets the point. (Strictly it ought to be “a paler shade of white” since paler than white should be impossible while whiter than pale is not). Other variants of the same linguistic form could be:

  • a blacker shade of dark
  • better than the best
  • worse than the worst
  • greater than the infinite
  • harder than diamond
  • softer than a feather
  • faster than lightning
  • stronger than steel
  • over the top
  • under the bottom
  • hotter than hell
  • colder than space
  • before the beginning
  • after the end
  • rounder than a sphere …….

Equally powerful is the use of antonyms, with one as an adjective for another but which serves to emphasise rather than negate some characteristic.

  • Infinitely small
  • Expanding infinity
  • The living dead
  • An evil goodness
  • A brilliant darkness
  • Surreptitious refulgence
  • A tumultuous lethargy
  • Brawny erudition
  • A restive calm
  • Relaxed turbulence
  • Solicitous indifference
  • An awakening ignorance
  • A concentrated diffusion
  • A historical future
  • A caring predator
  • Robust fragility
  • Enlightened disillusion …..

In the case of Bill Cosby, he is now being engulfed by his past and is surrounded by an expanding halo of an aggressive, licentious and debauched history.

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