Today I received a letter from a concerned reader who was gravely offended at word choice in my article on Sir Laurence Gardner, the historian to the pretender to the Stuart throne, whose historiography, I wrote, slipped into the "dangerous realm of extrarrestrial visitiation."
According to my erstwhile correspondent, this bit of rhetoric was beyond the pale. In a missive of many fonts and sizes, as well as liberal boldface and italics, she complained:
I just wanted to say that I cannot believe how short-brained close-minded a person can be to write something like "he made controversial claims that stretch the power of imagination and slip into the dangerous realm of extraterrestrial visitation" in relation to Sir Laurence Gardner's speech. Dangerous? Seriously? What is dangerous is how programmed you are to keep repeating like a parrot what you have been told. After such statement by the very beginning, it was just impossible to think that the rest of that critique was in any way serious. And you call yourself a scientist of any kind? Just another Illuminati-paid pseudo-scientist... hope someday you de-fossilize your mind.
I wrote to correct my correspondent's misapprehensions:
The phrase "dangerous realm" might literally mean "a land that is perilous to one's safety," but as I trust an educated reader like you will understand, there is no literal "realm" in this sentence in the sense of a land with borders, etc. This realm is a metaphor for an intellectual position. Given that the realm is not literally extant, it follows that the word "dangerous" is meant in its metaphorical rather than literal meaning. Thus, the phrase "dangerous realm," patterned on the standard English phrase "dangerous ground," follows the conventions for such rhetorical devices and refers instead to "an intellectually precarious position; an assertion that cannot be supported by facts." It does not, in fact, refer to any physical danger, real or imagined. This usage dates back centuries. See, for example, "the dangerous realm of epigram" in an article in Arts & Decoration, vol. 8 (1917), the "dangerous realm of definition" in the Columbia Law Review, 8 (1908), "dangerous realm of fancy" in Gem for You (1850), etc. etc.
As I trust, a keen reader such as yourself will have no trouble understanding the metaphorical nature of rhetorical turns of phrase. However, I would be much interested in learning where the so-called "Illuminati" dispense free money for writing articles challenging unpopular historians of extraterrestrial intervention. I have apparently missed this support and would be much obliged if you could forward the information so that I might collect.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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