Tired of reading George Bush's lips? Already know where the beef is? Then try the first great catch phrase of the '90s, courtesy of Saddam Hussein. Barely a month after he proclaimed the gulf war "the mother of all battles," the hyperbolic description has permeated public consciousness.
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney mockingly referred to the battered Iraqis' surrender as "the mother of all retreats." A reporter in Saudi Arabia praised Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf's tour-de-force news conference as "the mother of all briefings."Headline writers, cartoonists and comedians are jumping on the bandwagon. "Now the Mother of Problems: What to Do With Saddam Hussein," read one headline; "Mother of All Routs" popped up several times as the Iraqis were driven from Kuwait.
A look back at a World War II desert battle between the Allies and German troops was described as "the mother of the mother of all battles" in another article. An editorial cartoon picturing a televised Bush haranguing Saddam in his bunker was called "The Mother-In-Law of Battles."
The Washington Post headlined a story: "Iraq, Mother of Metaphor."
The overweening Iraqi president may seem an unlikely catch-phrase creator, but so did Clara Peller, the little old lady who bellowed "Where's the Beef?" in a 1984 Wendy's commercial. President Bush came up with one of the '80s last great slogans: "Read my lips." Ronald Reagan knew a good line when he heard one; he appropriated fellow actor Clint Eastwood's "make my day" for his speeches.
Bush, by the way, is described on Baghdad radio as America's Satan, the grand Satan, and the Satan of the era. That's enough to give a guy the mother of all inferiority complexes.
Experts say such vivid imagery is common in Arabic. The "mother of all battles" simply means it's the ultimate fight. Thank you, in Arabic, literally translates as "May Allah increase your well-being."
The American military, in contrast, has been colorless in its descriptions of "collateral damage," "surgical strikes" and "killing boxes" - which would come as no surprise to Raphael Patai, author of "The Arab Mind."
He writes, "Compared to the eloquence of the simplest illiterate Arab, the use of English by the average American appears as a series of disjointed grunts."