Three-Cornered Cliché

by Mary Jackson (December 2008) 

The Triangulation of Hope.  I looked at it only to remind myself what, if anything, “triangulation” means. “Remind myself” is not quite right. The fact is I don’t know what “triangulation” means in any context other than surveying. Merriam Webster gives only the technical definition:


: any similar trigonometric operation for finding a position or location by means of bearings from two fixed points a known distance apart

Usually seeing a word in context helps, so here is “triangulation” at work:

No, I still don’t get it. And why is it in inverted commas? Why put a hard word in inverted commas – quotation marks, as Americans seem to call them – when you can have an easy word without them.


another blogger. “Triangulates Labour”? So “triangulate” can be transitive, then? Of Cameron’s position on immigration, the blogger, “Dizzy” writes:


Does “triangulate” mean “outwit” or “out-manoeuvre”, then? According to Wiktionary it means:

Wiktionary gives an example, from Victor Davis Hanson:

There are, of course, two sides to this argument. Or possibly three.


Wisegeek, a sign giving “clear answers to common questions”:

The Phrase Finder – using the expression “knee-jerk”. But now it’s a cliché. You can tell it’s a cliché, because people are using it in a way that should not be, but often is, described as “knee-jerk”. Barack Obama:

“knee-jerk thoughts”.

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