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We Got the Neutron Bomb



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From Jennifer Schuessler’s column in today’s New York Times Book Review, here’s a sentence that will probably be the subject of an Editor’s Note in next Sunday’s paper:

Franzen’s 562-page monster is this fall’s neutron bomb of literary fiction, threatening to vaporize everything in its path.

This metaphor doesn’t work, because the whole point of a neutron bomb is that it doesn’t vaporize anything, or at least not much. Instead it releases a bunch of energetic neutrons, which kill people (without vaporizing them) but leave buildings and such intact. Back in the 1980s, when the idea was first proposed, “neutron bomb” was used as a metaphor for an event that did great damage to something while leaving its surface features intact. 



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