Reset that Metaphor

Monday NPR’s Audie Cornish, speaking of the upcoming State of the Nation address, said “President Obama prepares to hit the proverbial reset button on his second term tomorrow night.”

“What proverb?” I wondered. There’s no proverb involving reset buttons.

“Hit the reset button” is a figure of speech, a metaphor (se the article on “parallel / symbol” on p. 215 of Common Errors in English Usage).

Pressing the reset button on an electronic device like a game console wipes out the previous settings and allows the user to start over.

The metaphor became widely known through the Obama administration’s use of it  in 2009 to describe a hoped-for fresh start for Russian-American relations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to literalize the expression by presenting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a big red button labeled peregruzka, which Clinton’s staff thought meant “reset” in Russian. Lavrov pointed out that peregruzka  instead means “overcharged.” “Reset” would be perezagruzka.

So how did ABC News headline its story on this kerfuffle?

“President Obama’s Proverbial Reset Button”

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