"at the helm" = playing the most important role?/ "allegorical" = allusive; suggestive; referential

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Aug 13 02:25:09 UTC 2009

I agree that it's not the best sentence ever written, but I think I
understand (without having read the wider context) what he means.

It is "potentially allegorical" in that the Civil War depicted in the film
could be seen as an allegory for the civil war in Korea.

And American generals were indeed "at the helm" of one side in the war.
"Troops" is the bad choice here, not "at the helm." Had it read "American
generals at the helm" or "the American military at the helm" I don't think
anyone would have a problem with it.

I don't buy his argument, but not because of his choice of phrase.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 6:21 PM
Subject: "at the helm" = playing the most important role?/ "allegorical" =
allusive; suggestive; referential

Maybe this is of semantic interest, maybe it's just sloppy writing. Or maybe
it's of interest since there are two striking semantic anomalies in one
proof-read, published, academic sentence:

2003 Guerric DeBona, O.S.B., in Robert Eberwein, ed. _The War Film_ (New
Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers U.P., 2005) 118: Schary had not counted on the
problem of releasing a potentially allegorical period piece [_The Red Badge
of Courage_] about the Northern and Southern conflict in America when a
civil war was raging in Korea with American troops at the helm.

Needless to say, there would be nothing "allegorical" about _The Red Badge
of Courage_, even in the geopolitical conditions of 1951. (I've seen the

American troops "at the helm" of the "civil war raging in Korea"?  Nope.

Br. DeBona is a member of the Benedictine Order, but he also writes about
movies, which could be the determining factor here. Reading too much film
criticism does things to people.


"There You Go Again...Using Reason on the Planet of the Duck-Billed

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