The Grammarphobia Blog

Is Franco still dead?

Q: On your post about frequently paired words, you say Kuwait is almost always introduced by “oil-rich.” I can think of two more examples from the not-so-recent past: Manuel Noriega’s name was preceded by “Panamanian strongman,” and Steve Jobs’s big-time flopperoo was “Apple’s ill-fated Lisa.”

A: How could we have neglected to mention “Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega”? Surely a classic in the genre!

Even now, that combination gets 93,000 hits on Google, most of them preceded by “ex-” or “former” or “one-time,” or “deposed” or (in a couple of cases) “aged and paunchy.”

Well, he is now a guest of the French penal system instead of ours.

A lesser light whose name was generally preceded by a formulaic phrase was “notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.”

We’d completely forgotten “ill-fated Lisa,” but you’re right. The phrase was ubiquitous. It would be fun to collect these classics of journalese.

This phenomenon reminds us of another that will really reveal our ages. You may not remember that back in the early 1970s, Francisco Franco was described for months and months (at least so it seemed) as “the ailing dictator.”

When he finally died, Saturday Night Live began reporting news flashes that he was “still dead.” This kept up for more than a year!

If you remember this, you’ll get a smile out of a Wikipedia article entitled “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.” (In Spanish, it’s actually “Generalísimo.”)

Check out our books about the English language