EVISCERATE: “disembowel (a person or animal); figurative: deprive (something) of its essential content” — New Oxford American Dictionary

Things just keep getting worse for embattled New Mexico Secretary of State Mary Herrera… The employees—and Democratic county clerks—eviscerate her. (The New Mexico Independent, September 2, 2010)

My friend, a Scottish newspaper chief…refuses to be mesmerised by the masters of the universe and shuns their occasional entreaties to bring his long spoon and sup with them. It leaves him free occasionally to eviscerate them with a clear conscience. (The Guardian, September 12, 2010)

When I see Deseret News executives frothing at the mouth about “innovation” as they eviscerate their own staff, I want to run to the nearest bathroom to throw up. (Salt Lake Tribune, September 16, 2010)

Did I predict this or what? I grant the many figurative uses of eviscerate a pass, overdone as they may be. But see where this carelessness has taken us? What a short and rocky walk it is from eviscerating statutes to eviscerating people.

I suppose eviscerating is such a strong action, no one could mistake its figurative use (on people) for its literal one. And yet, there’s something imprecise about it. Eviscerate means to gut an animal (note the root viscera), which gives rise to its secondary meaning — to gut a document, idea, what have you. If you denigrate, disparage or disrespect a person , are you ripping out their innards? Would it be as valid to say the aforementioned Scotsman exsanguinates, decapitates, or emasculates the objects of his scorn? Each of those butchering terms has a precise meaning, as does eviscerate, and that meaning does not encompass downsizing (as in the Salt Lake Tribune example).

I’m in a good mood today, so I’ll throw this in the imprecise-but-not-wholly-wrong pile along with decimate, annihilate and my personal favorite, liquidate. But if we’re going to be eviscerating New Mexico’s Secretary of State, can we at least check her organ donor card? The budget crisis could benefit from some haruspicy.

Otto E. Mezzo

References: http://newmexicoindependent.com/62625/sos-is-mary-herreras-ship-sinking

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