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Retiring a Lexicon Sliver

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But even when workers make good choices, a market meltdown near the end of their working careers can still blow their savings to smithereens.

Big Slide in 401(k)s Spurs Calls for Change, Eleanor Laise, Wall Street Journal

That might seem somewhat a mixed metaphor were it not that I grew up downwind of Three Mile Island close enough to know exactly how accurate Laise’s portrayal can come to being realized. Even so, I confess I find it difficult to envision my 401(k) funds as a smoldering heap of radioactive smithereens. For that matter, what exactly is a smithereen? It occurs to me that I’ve never been close enough to a real war zone to know a smithereen from a shard.

A bit of OED exploring reveals that apparently no smithereen ever does a solo act. They only come in the plural, and generally only in large numbers. “Small fragments; atoms,” for instance the isotopes the TMI accident threatened to make of us. But pick up one of those small fragments, and apparently you don’t have a single smithereen. You have a splinter or a speck or a smidgen or a scintilla or maybe even a scruple. But withdraw a dollar from your 401(k) plan, and it ceases to be the smithereens our economy has made of your retirement plans.

Or something like that. I’m not sure I get the point of Laise’s skimpy imagery, if she even had one. Whatev.

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Written by macheide

8 January 2009 at 4:26 pm

Posted in whatev

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