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Politicians also lunged for the phrase. Early in 1981, a Reagan public-relations aide wanted American Embassy hostages being released by Iran to be brought home in planes dramatically marked ''United States of America.'' The Washington Post reporter Elisabeth Bumiller wrote a profile later that year about the White House aide, Joseph Canzeri (a Michael Deaver protege who survived and is today part of the team educating candidate Dan Quayle in political hardball). The reporter quoted a tense interchange between the hard-driving Mr. Canzeri and a Foggy Bottom bureaucrat who had resisted the use of aircraft so marked.
''They're committed,'' said a State Department official.
''Well, uncommit them,'' replied Canzeri.
''We can't do that,'' said the official.
''Read my lips - these are English words,'' said Canzeri. ''Uncommit them.'' His orders were followed; the planes were made available.
In 1987, Senator Albert Gore was questioning Under Secretary of Defense Fred C. Ikle about his lukewarm support of the Midgetman missile; the Pentagon official did not oppose study of that particular weapon but gave the impression he preferred a mobile missile instead. ''You're saying, 'Read my lips, cut the money' '' for the Midgetman, said Senator Gore. ''Your message is clear.''
That imputed a meaning to the phrase of whispering, or using body English to convey meanings other than what is spoken, as if to say ''read my mind''; that is not precisely what the rock lyricists had in their minds. On the contrary, the trope most often conjured is that of a teacher who is speaking to a deaf pupil and mouthing the words so that the person who cannot hear can understand.
In the magazine Automotive Marketing, Rosemarie Kitchin suggested in 1987 that the action described by the phrase has a double purpose: ''Read my lips! Has anyone ever said that to you? If so, you were the object of an intense attempt at persuasion. Your conversational partner wanted to emphasize a point or belief. And he or she wanted to be sure that you looked and listened both, for a dual sensory impact.'' Fish Story
''IN A PIRANHA-LIKE feeding frenzy,'' wrote Don Kowet in The Washington Times, ''yesterday television news tossed away any pretense of fairness. . . .'' This was the first shot in the counterattack against questioners of J. Danforth Quayle 3d at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, from the newspaper that had been first to suggest the Indiana Senator was being seriously discussed by the Bush staff. >Feeding frenzy, not yet in the dictionaries (welcome to the cutting edge of lexicography), is now the attack phrase of choice to describe an explosion of media interest. The earliest citation in this sense that comes to hand is an Associated Press story on March 9, 1977, reporting a speech by Gerald L. Warren, a former Nixon press secretary who was editor of The San Diego Union. He called for an end to the ''jugular journalism'' that caused some writers to act like ''sharks in a feeding frenzy.''
Felix G. Rohatyn, the farseeing financier (alliteration is mother's milk to old Nixon hands), picked up that image in 1979 to warn ''there's a feeding frenzy of sharks and the philosophy that tomorrow will take care of itself.'' When this metaphor was seized upon in Wall Street, the venture capitalist Thomas P. Murphy wrote in Forbes in 1983: ''A feeding frenzy, in case you are not a fisherman, occurs when bait is thrown to a school of hungry fish. They go wild, slashing at the bait, each other and anything else with the temerity to move.''
In case you are a fisherman, you would know from Theo W. Brown's 1973 book about sharks that these blood-lusty creatures ''switch off their sense of smell in a feeding frenzy.'' That term was used in a July 1962 article in Scientific American magazine, page 68, by Prof. Perry W. Gilbert of Cornell: ''As the blood and body juices of the marlin flow from the wound, the other sharks in the pack become more and more agitated and move in rapidly for their share of the meal. Frequently three or four sharks will attack the marlin simultaneously. A wild scene sometimes called a 'feeding frenzy' now ensues.''
Shades of Hemingway's ''The Old Man and the Sea.'' Reached for his source at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. (some would call this hunt for the earliest citation ''coinage frenzy''), Professor Gilbert passed me along to Richard Ellis, the shark expert, who promptly cited page 47 of a 1958 book, ''Shark Attack,'' by V. M. Coppleson. That Australian author discusses ''slow feeding'' as ''distinct from 'collective behavior' or 'frenzied feeding,' seen under somewhat rare conditions. In this case, sharks compete with others for possession of the prey and attack everything within range.''
For current usage in swift currents, you would turn to Todd Woodward, an editor at Field & Stream, who says the term is no longer limited to shark fishermen and ''Jaws'' audiences: ''It's when open-water predator fish, like striped bass, chase a group of bait fish into shallow water and start devouring them. It's pretty exciting to watch.'' And so it is, and not just for anglers. In the terminology of suddenly-seen scandal, a >firestorm is a neutral term for an explosion of coverage and concern; a >flap, from Royal Air Force World War I usage meaning ''air raid,'' is a dismissal of the excitement; a >brouhaha, perhaps from the Hebrew >barukh habba, ''blessed is he who enters,'' is much noisy ado often about nothing, and a >feeding frenzy is a derogation of those who treat the newly entered as less than blessed.Continue reading the main story