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Paris's bright moment

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  June 28, 2007 05:33 PM

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Several news reports of Paris Hilton's post-jail interview with Larry King quoted her as saying she wanted to help keep women from going to jail repeatedly. "I know I can make a difference and hopefully stop this vicious circle," she said.

Wow, I thought -- Paris Hilton knows it's vicious circle, not vicious cycle? That's unexpected.

Paris Hilton.jpg

As Paul Brians explains at his website, Common Errors in English:

The term “vicious circle” was invented by logicians to describe a form of fallacious circular argument. . . . The phrase has been extended in popular usage to all kinds of self-exacerbating processes such as this: poor people often find themselves borrowing money to pay off their debts, but in the process create even more onerous debts which in their turn will need to be financed by further borrowing. Sensing vaguely that such destructive spirals are not closed loops, people have transmuted “vicious circle” into “vicious cycle.” The problem with this perfectly logical change is that a lot of people know what the original “correct” phrase was and are likely to scorn users of the new one.

Unfortunately, Hilton's "vicious circle" was even more surprising once I'd seen the interview. (I had to watch it -- tediously, in segments, on YouTube -- because other people's ears can't be trusted; in fact, one website did misquote Hilton's words as "vicious cycle.") King looked as if he might nod off, lulled by the soporific stream of inanities: "Everything happens for a reason," "everyone makes mistakes," "I'm an Aquarius."

I suppose there must be, somewhere in the vast crowd of the momentarily famous, a celebrity whose conversation is less spellbinding than poor Paris Hilton's. But at the moment, I'm finding it hard to imagine.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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