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I came across the phrase “be no profile in something” in the following statement of Maureen Dowd’s article titled “Of Mad men, Mad women and Meat loaf” in today’s (October 27) New York Times:

“Mitt was certainly no profile in courage” after Murdock’s comment blew up. He didn’t take back his endorsement. He hid from reporters on his plane, and even dodged his usual custom of giving a reporter a birthday hug.”

Readers English Dictionary at hand shows only two idioms – “in profile” and “keep a low profile” under the headword of “profile.”

Google Ngram viewers show instances of “no profile in” since 1880, and its usage is on the sharp rise since 1990.

What does “Somebody is no profile in something (courage, integrity, command of foreign policy, and whatever) means?

Is this an established idiom, or just a Dowd’s usual pun with the error message “no profiles in PPD for qualifier 'RGB16.1.600x600dpi, ” we often see on our PC.?

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You might need a little historical and cultural context to understand this. –  Peter Shor Oct 27 '12 at 23:01
    
Change your search to "a profile in courage" which is what her comment references. –  Kristina Lopez Oct 28 '12 at 0:49
    
I learnt Dowd’s “Profile in courage” is associated with J.F.Kennedy’s “Prophiles in Courage” dealing with senatorial courage. But Romney’s “profile in courage” in keeping his strong endorsement to Richard Murdock who declares “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," doesn’t seem to me copmarable to JFK’s “Profiles in Courage” as exampled by John Quincy Adams as an Unitarian, and staunch opponent of slavery and expansionist war. I wouldn't go any further as it may come into 'off-topic'political arena. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 28 '12 at 2:33
    
The comparison is intended to be ironic. Political irony may be very hard to see without the cultural and linguistic context! –  Mark Beadles Oct 28 '12 at 3:35
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It's not "no profile in (something)", it's "no (Profile in Courage)".

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That's not strictly true. I didn't know of [Kennedy's?] book, but I had no problem parsing the usage here because I know that a profile can mean outline -> study -> exemplar. Although when I've just checked, it seems to me the word only started to take on the second (and more particularly, third) meanings around the 50s, so very likely the book itself was influential in "stretching" the meaning. Just not directly to me. –  FumbleFingers Oct 28 '12 at 1:34
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@FumbleFingers I don't doubt that you can glean it that way -- but in an article in the New York Times about US Presidential Politics by a well-read political author, Ms Dowd's intention to her primary audience is obvious. –  Mark Beadles Oct 28 '12 at 1:42
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I'm sure of that. She certainly doesn't write for me! I only know she exists because Yoichi is such an avid reader, and understandably she uses a lot of constructions that are opaque to "outsiders". I think that's part of the hallmark of political commentators/hacks - it's a side-effect of writing in a way that makes the [target] reader feel he's sharing "inside information". –  FumbleFingers Oct 28 '12 at 1:47
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