The new normal is kicking the can

By Felix Salmon
June 14, 2011
Michael McDonough has this wonderful chart:

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Michael McDonough has this wonderful chart:


Clearly the “new normal” meme is on the decline, and equally clearly “kicking the can” is developing a life of its own, having won the battle of minds against the cutesy rhyming phrases (“extend and pretend,” “delay and pray,” “fake it till you make it”).

I prefer “kicking the can” to “new normal,” on the grounds that it actually contains the tiniest morsel of actual meaning. But still, the cliché has definitely reached the annoying stage at this point. Any suggestions for what is going to supplant it, once it begins its inevitable decline?

Update: Jim Ledbetter informs me that Kick the Can is a popular US children’s game, which has nothing to do with its economic meaning. If it’s not the game which is the source of the phrase, where and when and how did people start talking about “kicking the can down the road”? Is that something people do? And what’s in the can?


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Imagine you’re walking down an idyllic dirt road in the county of folksy American idioms when you encounter a discarded tin can lying in the road. Instead of picking it up and disposing of it, you kick it a few feet down the road, continue walking until you approach the can again, and kick it again, repeating indefinitely.

I’ve never actually heard of the game Kick the Can until now. It sounds like something salty grandfathers did while growing in Brooklyn.

Posted by mrmcd | Report as abusive

“That being said…” makes my flesh crawl ..

Posted by Woltmann | Report as abusive

The actual game is essentially “hide and seek” except that instead of achieving safety by tagging a home base, one achieves safety by kicking the can.

Still, the Mayberry-dirt-road type imagery is what users of the cliched metaphor presumably intend.

Posted by Christofurio | Report as abusive

I agree with mmcd. The image may be from a cartoon in the newspapers of the early 20th century.

Posted by walt9316 | Report as abusive

I have heard this phrase as a metaphor for pointless delay since I was a kid in the 1960s. My dad had this picture on his office wall, which is what I always associate with the phrase. sts-in-action-520.html

Posted by albrt | Report as abusive

mrmcd = correct

It is a short version of the old saying (and doing) “kicking the can down the road.”

Wiki is wonderful as a fun read of what a few geeks think are facts. (or what Sarah Palin fans change to facts to fit what she blathers)


I truly pity this next generation and what they “think” they “know.”

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Kicking a can as you walked was also practised by kids in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. I think it is a fairly universal bored-kids game.

Posted by Ragweed | Report as abusive