In our thoughts, but not yet our step

What is the most beautiful word in the English language? Don’t read ahead; you’ll spoil the ending. Not that you haven’t already figured it out.

After a winter like this, it’s easy to boil your needs down to that single word and all the life it contains. Whatever you thought you needed on Black Friday – which is actually Thanksgiving Thursday – you may have changed your mind. Whatever you thought you needed in December, you may not think so anymore.

New Year’s resolutions? It’s hard to care when you’re coping with a parade of snowstorms that began with Atlas and hasn’t reached Zephyr yet but is well along in the alphabet of mythological figures. We have the Weather Channel to thank for this tidy plan to personify 26 snow “events” as boisterous Greek deities and Titans. Has it been a more fun winter seen through the lens of this epic winter hagiography?

Bryan Norcross of the Weather Channel says it’s “easier to communicate about a complex storm if it has a name.” But there’s something alarmist about this two-year-old procedure, something hurricane-like. After this bitter winter, I think I’d prefer my snow “events” to be local and anonymous. The entire United States has been in a crazy weather boat for more than two months while Boreas, Electra, Hercules, and all the others cut a swathe from Mount Olympus, Utah to the Atlantic. While the full fury of many of the deities has skirted us repeatedly, we’ve certainly done our share of scraping, shoveling, snow blowing, and now campaigning to fix pocked and churned-up roads.

I’m not as fearless as the hearty joggers and dog walkers I’ve seen braving single-digit temperatures. I haven’t spent so much time indoors in a long time. All this extra time hooking into indoor diversions like movies and television has brought the spectacle of excessive advertising into sharp, aggravating focus.

We are likely to function through the winter without knowing the name of every “snow event.” We would fare even better without the obnoxious and, I would argue, irresponsible drug advertisements that garnish our favorite shows like some Munster family dinner parsley. This winter, I’ve heard the dozens of drug names and the rapid spiel that begins “Risk of side effects” and ends “including death” dozens of times too many. Canadian laws limit drug company verbiage to brand name, price, and quantity. And with good reason.

A Cornell and New York University study published this year claims that advertising can promote over diagnosis as consumers flock to their doctors to do what the ads suggest: “Ask your doctor if Drug A may be right for you.” Doctors already know what drugs are available; they don’t need consumer patients begging them for drug treatments they saw on television commercials.

A 2013 Australian study took to task certain pharmaceutical advertising campaigns that minimized side effects, including cancer, while bloating the drugs’ benefits. The researchers called this disservice to the public “disease mongering.”

Beyond the annoyance factor, not to mention the effect all this mongering is having on doctor-patient relationships that now come with a white consumer elephant in the examining room, wouldn’t the $2.4 billion to $4.3 billion spent on drug ads every year since 2010 have been better spent on research and development? Advocates of the advertising call it “patient education.” So Madison Avenue now knows more about medical conditions than our own doctors? Is advertising really the best way to promote patient-doctor communication, as proponents argue?

I call this “linguistic legerdemain,” or magic tricks with language. Because we are marketed to incessantly nowadays, I dig my heels in deeper and refuse to be duped. As I look around the theater, I wonder who in the bargain matinee crowd is going to rush out and buy the new car they didn’t know they wanted until they saw the ad before the movie.

I wonder who actually responds to the commercials that flash unbidden on cell phone screens. Or if people really write down the names and phone numbers waltzing ad infinitum in their heads between songs on the radio. I wonder how much bang for the buck corporations get from the e-mail advertisements that have been given a glossy verbal “Promotions” makeover. Really? Are commercials any more palatable as “promotions” than as advertisements? Probably no more so than winter weather happenings dolled up as Greek deities.

It has been a long, cold winter. I, for one, have spent too much time indoors at the mercy of a marketing empire that seems to “promote” in more and more arenas, at unprecedented expense, and undoubtedly to our detriment.

When it comes right down to it, all I really want is everything that’s contained in that wonderful six-letter word: spring.

Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to