I'm not going to hazard a guess on whether the first on-camera allegation by one of Herman Cain's many accusers will at long last spell the decisive end to this surreal and sorry episode. For now, let's just express some sympathy for what was, until not so long ago, a perfectly acceptable and useful word in the English language -- first appearance in 1684! -- but which is now so laden with negative connotations that someone ought to just take it out back behind the barn, or squash it with an unabridged OED, or whatever one does in such a situation.
Its degradation began soon after President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009 (note, even then, the bill's supporters were defensive about the word, using the 'r' euphemisms instead.) But things got really ugly as it became clear that the, um, package wasn't going to do the trick in pulling the economy out of the ditch. The word became an epithet of the right, to be spat out scornfully. By the time the White House started talking about the need for an additional Keynesian boost, it avoided the s-word at all costs -- it was now a "jobs bill."
And now this. Take it away, Politico:
Superlawyer Gloria Allred introduced her client, Sharon Bialek, at a press conference in New York Monday afternoon, telling reporters that the woman formerly employed at the National Restaurant Association's educational arm had been subject to an unwanted sexual advance from the Republican presidential candidate.
Bialek, a Chicagoan, had raised money for the restaurant association before being terminated in 1997, Allred said. When she lost her job, she reached out to Cain for help.
"Mr. Cain instead decided to try to provide her with his idea of a stimulus package," Allred said.
When I first heard the line just now, I assumed that the alleged advance had occurred in the past few years, when the phrase was in full circulation. But no -- Allred was applying it retroactively, to an era of robust economic growth when the phrase was still a harmless innocent, if used at all. Such is the newfound colloquial power of the phrase that it apparently knows no epochal bounds. The possibilities are endless:
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou art far more fair than she.
Hark, that's what I call a stimulus package.