Sophie’s Choice and other Choice Choices

Slate's Culture Blog
July 12 2011 6:19 PM

Sophie’s Choice and Other Choice Choices

At the White House’s daily media briefing Tuesday, spokesman Jay Carney said that a failure to raise the nation’s debt ceiling would force the government to make “a kind of ‘Sophie’s Choice’ ” regarding which bills to pay and which to drop. What, exactly, does that mean?

Sophie’s Choice is the title of a 1979 novel by William Styron, about a Polish woman in a Nazi concentration camp who is forced to decide which of her two children will live and which will die. (Meryl Streep nabbed an Oscar for her starring role in the 1982 film version.) Now, the phrase has become shorthand for a terrible choice between two difficult options, and lawmakers love dropping it as a dramatic allusion in debates over budget dilemmas in all areas—from renewable energy and arts funding to education and food stamps.                                                            

Advertisement

Bonus choices:

Hobson's Choice: A situation where one may choose the thing that is offered or else take nothing at all. After Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), an English mail carrier who rented horses and, to avoid overtiring his animals, told his customers that they could take the horse nearest the stable door or no horse at all.

Fielder's Choice: In baseball, a play in which the fielder chooses to put out another player rather than the batter, allowing the batter to reach first base safely.

USDA Choice: The second-highest beef grade offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. Choice beef has less marbling than the highest-grade beef, known as USDA Prime.

Taster's Choice: A brand of instant coffee owned by Nestlé; now sold as “Nescafé Taster’s Choice.” In the late 1980s and early '90s, Taster’s Choice in the U.K. was responsible for the most romantic hot-beverage commercials ever made.

People’s Choice Awards: A pop culture awards show held annually since 1975; winners are selected by the general public. Categories include Favorite On-Screen Team, Favorite TV Crime Fighter, and Favorite Viral Video Star.

Buck Dancer's Choice: The flip side of "ladies’ choice." According to the jacket of Taj Mahal’s 1973 album Oooh So Good ‘n’ Blues—quoted in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics—it’s “a tune that goes back to Saturday-night dances, when the Buck, or male partner, got to choose who his partner would be.”

—with Stephen Spencer Davis and Brahna Siegelberg

 

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.