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I came across the phrase “erect around” in the following sentence of the article titled “Campaign 2012: China or America” appearing in New Yorker magazine (April 6), which deals with the elections of the top leaders of two superpower countries in the world taking place this year:

“In the United States, modern political parties strain to project spontaneity and authenticity onto that which is, in fact, highly ritualized: an onward procession of bumps and setbacks and gaffes that rarely veers outside the lines.

In China, it is the other way around: the Party strains to project solemn ritual onto that which turns out to be brutally untamed. This year, the artifice of calm erected around the hidden cut-and-thrust fell away at the hands of Chongqing Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai.”

I don’t think I’ve ever met the expression, *“erect calm." Though I'm familiar with "stay (keep) calm," I'm unfamiliar with the expression like "erect calm," or "erect serene / tranquilness / noise / clamor" around something. To me "calm" doesn't seem to be the thing to be "erected," though it can be secured or built.

Is "erect calm" around something a popular expression? What does the line, “the artifice of calm erected around the hidden cut-and-thrust fell away at the hands of Chongqing Communist Party boss” exactly mean?.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

In phrase

... the artifice of calm erected around the hidden cut-and-thrust ...

erected is associated with artifice moreso than with calm. That is, it says an artifice was erected, an artifice of calm. The particular arrangement of words in the printed phrase may be a result of editing problems; specifically, the author may have written the edifice of calm erected and an editor may have substituted the more-appropriate noun artifice but failed to modify the now-inappropriate verb erected, to, for example, constructed or maintained or enveloping.

Note that ngrams for erect an edifice,erected edifice,edifice erected shows that edifice/erected combinations appear in print often enought that an editor may regard the combination as cliched.

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As an afterthought, it occurred to me that “erect around” refers to “artifice” and corresponds to “fell away.” But still “elect artifice” sounds creaky to me. I can easily understand “elect (build, establish) an edifice (a big building, castle)” on (not around) the ground, and devise (hatch, weave, work out) an artifice (plot, trick, stratagem), but “elect artifice (of calm) around something” grates. At least, it doesn’t seem to be the model combination of the “erect” and “artifice” that I should learn by heart as a non-native English learner. – Yoichi Oishi Apr 9 '12 at 20:45
@Yoichi, if I understand your comment correctly, I should emphasize that neither of "erect/artifice" or "elect/edifice" are model combinations; both are bad. The "erect an artifice" wording in the article probably is a consequence of editing errors. The usual and accepted phrase is "erect an edifice". Also, "elect" (vs "erect") is irrelevant here; no sense of elect fits into this context. – jwpat7 Apr 9 '12 at 22:03
I mistyped ‘elect edifice” for “erect edifice.” Because we don’t have the distinction between ‘L’ sound and ‘R’ sound in Japanese language, I often misspell them. To tell you truth, I have a terrible memory of being laughed at by others for misspelling “general election” as “general erection” in the writing. – Yoichi Oishi Apr 9 '12 at 22:39

This isn't an idiom, it's just a standard verb+adverb which means, as one might expect, "erect (build) something around something else". The sentence you quoted means that there was a pretence of calmness around the real (less calm) nature of Chinese politics, which was apparently demolished by the Chongqing Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai.

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Now I understood what “the artifice of calm erected around the hidden cut-and-thrust fell away” mean, and that “erected” and “fell away” correspond each other. I was perplexed with the phrase “calm erected around.” As a non-native English speaker, the idea of “erecting calm” was somewhat foreign to me. Though it may sound like the fox and grapes excuse, it would have been much easier for me to understand the line, if it were written like, “the artifice of calmness built (or established) on the hidden-cut and thrust” as you explained. – Yoichi Oishi Apr 9 '12 at 8:47

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