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Time magazine (December 16) introduces Mitt Romney’s new TV campaign commercial as follows:

“New Mitt NH TV spot hits twin goals: Romney as economic savior and Romney as a man who can relate to working people. Romney: "We’ve got to get this economy going again. At the foundation of everything good is a very strong economy."

I’m interested in the expression, “At the foundation of everything good is a strong economy. "

Is “At the foundation (base) of everything +adjective is (predicate) a popular idiom, or just a set of words?

Can I say conversely “At the foundation of everything bad is a very bad economy (management, waste of money, a person, e.g. you, president of a company) without being felt awkward?

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This question might fit better in writers.stackexchange, as it is slightly more about how to write well, vs. meaning. – jwpat7 Dec 17 '11 at 0:21
@Yoichi: I really wish you'd subscribe to something else! Time tolerates some dire phrasing! Can't I interest you in, for example, a subscription to New Scientist? :) – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '11 at 1:01
(supplementary)... some of the hacks at Time probably think they're at the vanguard of promoting "American" (they wouldn't recognise "English" as a language). They keep pushing oddball turns of phrase, but I'm sure these are often invented at time of writing (or at least, highly localised). They are not an exemplar of where the language is heading. – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '11 at 1:06
Neither. It is not a popular idiom, nor is it just a set or words. It is a sentence. – GEdgar Dec 17 '11 at 1:47
@Yoichi I notice that many, if not most, of your questions ask whether or not a phrase you've stumbled upon is an idiom. Typically, a simple Google search can give you a pretty good idea of how common a phrase is. – onomatomaniak Dec 19 '11 at 11:48

There seems to be a misunderstanding here of what an idiom is. It is a sequence of words that cannot be understood by interpreting its constituent parts: it can be understood only as a semantic whole. Thus, foreign learners of English would be baffled in coming across, let us say, throw in the towel for the first time. No amount of looking at the individual words will tell them that it means 'admit defeat'.

At the foundation of everything good is a strong economy is not that kind of expression. The meaning can be understood by looking up the words in a dictionary, even though the use of foundation is metaphorical. So it is not an idiom. Is it anything other than, as @GEdgar has suggested, an ordinary sentence? I think not. Can we say, as the OP asks, At the foundation of everything bad is a very bad economy? Yes, we can. Both it and the original sentence seem to me to be quite unexceptionable.

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+1 for 'cannot be understood by interpreting its constituent parts' – Kris Dec 20 '11 at 5:39

It's not popular at all. In fact, in the google books corpus there isn't a single instance. Nor is there in the Corpus of current American English. Nor is the meaning opaque in the way many idioms are. Your alternative sentence could work though.

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This answer could be improved with links to ngrams and COCA. (for linking to COCA, you need to log in, then after running a query, go to the "history" page, then there's a permalink for each query). – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 17 '11 at 3:38
+1 for useful info. – Kris Dec 19 '11 at 6:02

No, it is not an idiom, as yet. However, as you had wished, if you do use it, and use it very effectively to drive a point in a powerful way and not merely apply the literal sense of the 'string of words', in course of time, it may acquire the character of an idiom.

At the foundation of all idioms is longstanding literary and popular usage. An appearance in TIME does not create an instant idiom, though it may lay a kind of foundation at times. We could some day say 'The earliest use of this idiom can be traced to TIME, dd,mm,yyyy ..."

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"The foundation of everything good" is the sort of overarching statement that is at the heart of all mission statements and slogans. Googling "foundation of everything" turns up these sorts of results:

  • The self-image is the foundation of everything in life.
  • Safety: The Foundation of Everything We Do.
  • Compassion is the foundation of everything positive.
  • The foundation of everything is love.

It's not an idiom, but a formula for concocting high-sounding statements.

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