Journalists Are Looking Very Hard for 'Silver Linings'

Whenever this cliché pops, you know there's lots of dark clouds in the news cycle

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The cliché: The Wall Street Journal editorial board reacted to yesterday's stock market plunge saying, "They say there's always a silver lining. Yesterday there wasn't." Apparently, the rest of the media didn't agree, and you know that when this idiom starts popping up, there are a lot of dark clouds in the news cycle. People are trying desperately to find "silver linings" in every news story from the stock market plummet to the European debt crisis to the U.S. debt ceiling compromise. Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St. declares "Market collapse silver lining: gasoline prices." Cezary Podkul at The Washington Post says, "Jaffee also sees a silver lining for consumers, who are getting a break in the cost of mortgages thanks to the markets’ recent slide." That same silver cloud hung over Ireland, too, according to the Irish Times: "As to the impact on homeowners, Ciarán Phelan, chief executive of the Irish Brokers’ Association said the sovereign debt crisis constituted a 'silver lining', given how it is likely to keep interest rates low." Alec MacGillis at The Washington Post says of the debt ceiling deal: "Off the Hill, liberals searched for silver linings but came up with little more than the consolation that some of the particulars were not as damaging as they could have been." 

Where it's from: Most immediately, "silver linings" refer to the common English idiom and sign of unbridled optimism: "Every cloud has a silver lining." According to John Milton provided the original inspiration in his "Comus" when he wrote, "Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud/ Turn forth her silver lining on the night? " In Bleak House, Charles Dickens picked up the thread, writing "I turn my silver lining outward like Milton's cloud." Finally, Phineas T. Barnum of circus fame coined the phrase in its modern form writing, "'Every cloud,' says the proverb, 'has a silver lining.'"

Why is it catching on? News writers are always looking for winners and losers in a story. Pointing out "silver linings" is a simple way to add complexity to what might seem like a straightforward "The stock market is crashing!" angle. But then, that's always true. So....
Why else? Well, it's August, and though we're not at the beach just now, we certainly wish we were. Newsrooms aren't used to so much crisis-watching in sunny months. But with markets crashing and Washington imploding, life looks kind of grim. Call it the media's attempt to point out the sunshine from behind those dark news clouds.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.