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Word Watch

September 25, 2005|BRENDAN BUHLER

Yuck! "Toxic soup" has been stinking up newspapers and televisions since Hurricane Katrina hit.

A LexisNexis search of the last year shows 291 articles serving this soup de journo -- 209 since Aug. 28, when CNN warned that flooding could leave survivors "in a bowl of toxic soup."

By comparison, this stagnant euphemism for polluted water (or sometimes air) befouled 113 articles the year before. There also was a hankering for "toxic stew," which was ladled out 78 times after Katrina.

And it was disaster, Cajunstyle, as writers used "toxic gumbo" 139 times. But when they were writing all spicylike, where were the toxic bisques and etouffees? With a storm from the Gulf of Mexico and floodwaters served cold, why no toxic gazpacho?

As it turns out, the Katrina-stirred jambalaya may not be all that toxic. The Environmental Protection Agency says the water is swimming with E. coli but chemical contamination is low. The arsenic in it could harm a child who drank a liter of floodwater a day for a year, but all in all it's an inaccurate cliche.

We need a "cleanup effort."

-- BRENDAN BUHLER

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