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Deeply salient

March 7, 2023

This post is something of a delayed reaction: the offending phrase appeared in The Times about five weeks ago and I did not get round to commenting at the time; but it has niggled at my mind ever since and at last I have to speak out. A columnist called Sebastian Payne was writing about some problem he’d identified (I no longer remember what) and he described it as ‘deeply salient’. 

            Deeply salient. 

            What the…?

He meant, of course, ‘deeply serious’ or ‘deeply significant’. Maybe he’d looked up important in a thesaurus and salient came up as a synonym. And so it is, in many contexts. But the literal meaning of salient is sticking out, jutting, projecting, prominent. This doesn’t fit with deeply at all. The effect is oxymoronic. Of course, salient in the sense of important is a metaphor, and one without much life in it – but it’s not so totally dead that the literal meaning has been forgotten. Shape up, Payne. We expect better from someone who gets paid to write. 

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    In the perceived meaning could anything be slightly salient? As the cliche has it that’s like being a little bit pregnant.

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