Tag Archives: under the radar

Slippery salmonella

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, sometimes referred to as the “food police,” is the advocacy group we love to hate. In reality, they do mountains of good in heightening public awareness about healthy eating—by telling us the ugly truth about our favorite indulgences, from buttered popcorn to Mexican food.

Yesterday, the group released a study on food safety, showing how well each of our 50 states detects, investigates and combats food-borne illness. I am proud to say that my state was one of only seven to receive an “A.”

That’s neither here nor there.

Call it the curse of the word nymph, but what made me take notice was not the data but the delivery. A word nymph can detect a mixed metaphor faster than a wood nymph can spot a bull thistle.

In announcing the study, CSPI safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said, “If a consumer calls and says they have a food-borne illness but there’s no one there to investigate the cause, then outbreaks are just slipping under the radar screen.”

Did she mean “slipping under the radar?” Or did she mean “slipping off the radar screen?”

I’d say, technically, the answer could be both, but not in the same sentence.

What’s the difference? The first originates from “flying below the radar,” which is to go undetected or unnoticed. To be on someone’s radar screen is to receive his or her attention. To be off a person’s radar screen means the person is unaware.

The difference in meaning is extremely subtle, so perhaps I niggle. And yet, hearing the mixed metaphor on the news last night left me with a messy mental image. When Ms. Smith DeWaal said that outbreaks are “slipping under the radar screen,” I immediately wanted to swab the radar screen, and the control panel below it, with an antibacterial wipe.

Did anyone else have the same gut reaction?

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