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Doing "the math"

Before you add a comment and tell me that I take this stuff waaaay too seriously, let me admit up front that, yes, yes I do.

For whatever reason, I've been hearing the phrase "you do the math" with a lot more frequency lately. It's kind of a discursive shortcut--if you're talking numbers, rather than laying out an entire calculation (especially if it's fairly obvious), you might just suggest that your listener/audience "do the math." The implication is that the point you're making is so obvious that there's no real persuasion to be gained by explicitly completing the calculation.

Lately, though, I'm hearing the phrase in commercials--most recently for some back-to-school jeans sale. It's not so much that it's being used to describe situations that aren't really mathematical as much as it's become another one of those insufferably smug, self-consciously psuedo-ironic placeholders. What it really means, now, is "we don't really have anything to say, so we're going to pretend as though we've thought it through." For me, it's a lot like one of my all-time pet peeves: the apparently irresistible slapstick cliché, when someone runs into something or falls from a height or whatever, of saying "That's gotta hurt!" or "That's gonna leave a mark!" Hardy har har. It was mildly clever the first couple of times, but since then, it's become a piece of empty dialogue to be used in place of actually having to react to violence/pain/damage. There are all sorts of other "lines" like this, I'm sure, attempts to disguise one's lack of cleverness by adopting a clever pose...

Believe me when I say that I'm not a language purist or anything--much as I'd like to declare a moratorium on crap like that, language is going to change in all sorts of ways whether I like it or not. All the same, if language is the food of thought, "you do the math" is rapidly approaching the status of circus peanuts for me.


Tonight I watched Ocean's Eleven, and when the George Clooney and Brad Pitt characters tell the others in the group about the $160 million take and instruct them to "do the math" to arrive at how much each of the eleven people will get, I thought of this post.

Yuck, circus peanuts. I liked them when I was a child but fortunately came to my senses.