"Robust," the unlikely new leader in health reform buzzwords.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 3 2009 2:19 PM

RPO Speedwagon

Robust, the unlikely new leader in health reform buzzwords.

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Then again, perhaps the word's ungainliness helps explain its resilience. When I ran "robust" through Slate's search engine, I came across "Clichés of 1999 in Review," a hilarious story by Timothy Noah announcing the winners of the First Annual Joseph Heller Memorial Cliché Contest. Robust came in a strong third, behind inappropriate and "at the end of the day." One of the many readers who nominated robust called it "the most overused, overworked, hackneyed word in the cliche-ridden vocabulary of pols and their speechwriters, D.C. bureaucrats, think-tank thinkers, pundits and even lowly working reporters condemned to write about legislation and policy making."

That was 10 years ago. Now the robust epidemic has roared back stronger than ever, overwhelming stalwart first responders.

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For the moment, the terms of the public-option debate seem to have narrowed to wonky, workmanlike phrases—opt-out, opt-in, trigger—none of which will ever turn up in wine reviews or win a Joseph Heller Memorial Cliché Contest. Just in case RPO should stage another comeback, however, here's a fine list of compelling alternativesmuscular, powerful, sound, thriving—that attempt to capture the R-word's meaning. My favorite is robustious, which traces back to Hamlet's ridicule of "a robustious, periwig-pated fellow." With clichés like that, cable might be worth watching.

Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at thehasbeen@gmail.com. Read his disclosure here.