Accent on Living

YOU’LL enjoy its dry, sweet flavor . . For several mornings I heard these words in a radio commerical plugging a fortified wine. I heard them without comprehension, vaguely, and their reiteration from day to day failed to give them meaning for me. But quite by chance one morning, when my ear was off guard and admitting the commercial announcement to my mental processes, I realized with a nostalgic thrill that I was at grips once again with anonymousness as a factor in American life.

Dry? Sweet? Here, in the matter of wine, are antonyms. There are dry wines and there are sweet wines. Let us assume that half the public prefers the one and rejects the other. This poses the wine producer an exasperating problem. Which faction shall he woo? To bid for either is to lose the other. This would be not only unbusinesslike but, as the antonymous school has discovered, quite unnecessary. The more cautious or pessimistic publicist would avoid the issue or try for a middle-of-the-road strategy. Nonsense, says the expert in anonymity, I’ll take the middle of the road and both sides of the street. Mine shall be a dry sweet wine. (As a matter of fact, his wine, in the example that I mention, is numbingly sweet.)

The dry-sweet affirmation was nostalgic for me because it carried me back to my first encounter with the antonymous approach. It was in 1930, when the issue of Prohibition was by far the most vexing of all that confronted political candidates. The electorate was split cleanly down the middle, it was widely believed at the time, and few candidates could endorse the Wets or the Drys without unhappiness.

It remained for a man in western Massachusetts to make the antonymous effort, and he did so with the formal announcement that he was running for Congress as a Wet-Dry. He was not, I regret to add, successful, but his posture epitomized the two main qualities of antonymous behavior—boldness and a certain wild optimism.

There were a few more instances of anonymousness in the fore part of the Depression, notably the “strengthening" of the banking system by the simple act of closing down the “weaker" banks. It was a commonplace at the time to pick up a paper and read: “A feeling of optimism pervaded Boston’s financial district today following the first shock of the closing of the ‘sound’ Federal National Bank, its branches, and eight affiliates . . Similarly, it was argued of many stocks that their price was declining only because of uncertainty over the dividends they continued to pay, and that the price would stabilize and rise once again just as soon as the dividends — troublesome thing that they are had been omitted.

More recently, it was Senator Sparkman who described himself to an interviewer in the 52 campaign as a “liberal-conservative.”

At the present time foodstuffs and any product dependent on flavor or aroma—coffee, cigarettes, cheese of all sorts, whiskey, bacon, and many others — are the mainstays of the antonymous school of thought. All are “rich” and all are “mild.” It would be unusual nowadays to hear that anything is rich without immediate assurance that it is also mild. “You’ll enjoy its rich, mild flavor” — especially after looking up these two adjectives in your dictionary.