IHS Chemical Week


How Green Were My Shoots?

1:57 PM MDT | May 28, 2009 | By VINCENT VALK

I'll cop to it – we journalists love catch phrases. The phrase "on the ground" is has been pretty much inescapable for several years now but, and I could be wrong about this, I don't recall hearing it much prior to the Iraq war. And now, in keeping with my profession's tradition of trotting out new-ish yet trite-sounding catch phrases to describe big stories, we have the "green shoots" of economic recovery.

This one confused me from the start. Unlike "on the ground," which has a pretty clear meaning, it is not immediately obvious what exactly a green shoot is. Is it an environmentally friendly free throw? A green-hued golfball that gets a hole-in-one? A super soaker filled with green food coloring? I wasn't really sure.

Well, we have our answer – apparently a "green shoot" has something to do with gardening. It essentially refers to the buds of plants and flowers, which appear prior to the full bloom of spring. In keeping with the tradition of opaque statements from Fed chairmen, Ben Bernanke told 60 minutes that he could see "green shoots of economic recovery" back in March.

Now, in fairness, the phrase was not invented by Ben Bernanke. A Google News search from 2007 and 2008 reveals 947 mentions of the expression, almost entirely in the British press (this article is a good example). However, the green shoots did not, ahem, cross the pond much until Bernanke's pronouncement in March. Since then, the phrase has "sprouted and blossomed," in the words of Slate's Daniel Gross.

Which, of course, begs the question – now that the phrase is in full bloom, will the economy follow? I'm on the record as being skeptical, but that is the big question.

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