Sunday, March 15, 2009


While some buzzwords are used to connote erroneous meanings, others are used in contexts that fail to provide sufficient meaning of any kind. Such is the case today with ‘perspective,’ a noun that, when referring to a point of view, requires context to suggest what that point of view might entail.

An example provided in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary is “a Marxist perspective”—the point of view of a specific ideology. This is sufficient context, given the definition of Marxism itself suggests the nature of that perspective.

Yet, there are many flippant references these days to ‘perspective’ that leave the question utterly open-ended. On March 13, 2009, for example, The Globe And Mail previewed a TV special lampooning recent U.S. President George W. Bush, starring Will Ferrell and co-written by Adam McKay. The article reported:

“Both men went into the project believing Bush should be held accountable, albeit from a comedy perspective.”

Comedy, however, is not a specific idea like Marxism. It does not suggest a single, identifiable point of view. Thus, the term ‘perspective’ adds nothing here; the writer, Andrew Ryan, could have used the simpler phrase, “albeit through comedy.”

Two days later, The New York Times’ coverage of the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, featured an interview with filmmaker Joe Swanberg. Discussing his latest film’s premiere, the article reported:

“… the so-called day-and-date release with an assist from the festival here suits his needs from a financial and artistic perspective.”

This wording, too, is needlessly complicated, given it simply means to say the release “suits his financial and artistic needs.” Often a ‘perspective’ is suggested where there is none.


  1. Could he have meant 'from a comic's perspective'? Still ungainly, but at least the perspective would be held by someone, or a kind of person.

  2. That still wouldn't carry any specific meaning, given that comedians do not share one perspective (certainly not compared to Marxists; there's no comedians' manifesto to guide their outlook).

  3. Sure, but if holding Bush accountable is a serious action, a comic perspective could qualify that seriousness. As in "we believe he should be held accountable, and we're going to do that, even though we'll be going for laughs at the same time."

  4. You're wavering between the general and the specific. McKay and Ferrell may share their specific perspective, but no specific meaning is inherent in the writer's phrasing "albeit from a comedy perspective." Seriousness isn't in itself a perspective either.

  5. I have a completely off-topic question, Pete. The following lead appeared in today's Chronicle Herald: "Metro Transit is describing a recent rash of road rage and racist actions by its bus drivers as an anomaly, but some people beg to differ." My coworker claims "anomaly" should be pluralized, but I disagree. Doesn't "anomaly" refer to the "rash," which is singular? I await your arbitration.

  6. It could go either way. If you pluralize to 'anomalies,' then you're referring to 'road rage and racist actions.' If you keep it singular, you're referring to the rash thereof.