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I have some problems with a specific sentence in a book titled This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things. The sentence is below:

It would be easy to say—as many members of the media have said, to a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue—that all forms of RIP trolling are objectively bad, and that all RIP trolls are objectively evil.

My concern is the part between the dashes,

—as many members of the media have said, to a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue—

What’s the role of those words following the first comma, to a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue, in this context?

I’m pretty sure that the ‘to’ is not an infinitive, but a preposition, so they shouldn’t be the purposes of the members’ saying. Also, if those words are the objectives of ‘have said,’ why is there a comma after ‘said?’

Although I’ve spent pretty much time on it, I found it clueless, so I need some help.

Thank you!

  • The book is This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things by Whitney Phillips. I copied it from an e-book version of it, so there's no error. – Jaekyeong Shin Apr 1 '18 at 8:08
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    Thank you, I've edited and added the information. But your question is a bit unclear: (1) do you want to understand the meaning of the sentence, (2) know the term for this structure, (3) why a comma is used after said, (4) why the preposition to is used, (5) all of the above? – Mari-Lou A Apr 1 '18 at 8:20
  • I'm sorry for the confusion. Because English is not my first language, there was an ambiguity. Actually, I know the meaning of each word. But still I'm lost on why they are used. Did the members have said like that not only to address RIP trolls but also a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue? – Jaekyeong Shin Apr 1 '18 at 8:20
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    If you don't mind, all of those information would be very helpful for me. Thanks so much. – Jaekyeong Shin Apr 1 '18 at 8:22
  • All right, I'll leave my comment for the time being. Today is a (Christian) holiday, so you might not receive an answer for several hours. In fact, I have to get ready to go out :) Have a good day! – Mari-Lou A Apr 1 '18 at 8:25
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In this lengthy sentence,

as many members of the media have said, to a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue

is a parenthetical insertion, slotted in at the relevant point to add more detail to the matrix sentence

It would be easy to say that all forms of RIP trolling are objectively bad, and that all RIP trolls are objectively evil.

It is complicated by the fact that this particular example actually contains nested parentheticals, and could be written

It would be easy to say (as many members of the media have said [to a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue]) that all forms of RIP trolling are objectively bad, and that all RIP trolls are objectively evil.

While this might make things clearer, it looks unsightly, so the author uses a comma in place of my opening square bracket, and makes the closing dash do dual duty. This makes things harder to parse (especially with there being listing commas) but more beautiful to behold.

...............

The expression 'to a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue' means 'accompanied by a flourish ...' or 'prompting a flourish ...'.

The expression has a broad usage; it can be used just to mean something happening at the same time, or used to mean something chosen as an accompaniment, or even something causing the event in the main clause (I woke up to the smell of frying bacon / the sound of the alarm clock.) It is a commonly used expression, for instance 'I rehearsed my dance steps to the music of Strauss'. 'To' is certainly a preposition here.

CED gives just the 'at the same time as' sense here, though their examples are actually broader:

to preposition (AT THE SAME TIME AS) ​ at the same time as music or other sound:

I like exercising to music.

He left the stage to the sound of booing.

  • One meaning of flourish is "a grandiose piece of music", as in 'a flourish of trumpets' (sense 14 in Collins). – TimLymington Apr 1 '18 at 8:58
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Flourish is derived from the Latin root flor ‘flower’, as in florist. The sense you are looking for is a short, dramatic musical phrase, almost always played by brass instruments, i.e., a trumpet fanfare:

About half-past one o'clock, the Commander-in-Chief entered, to a flourish of trumpets. It was observed that the Duke of Wellington stepped across, and cordially shook hands with the American Minister.

A fanfare is often used to signal the beginning or end of some important event, such as this formal state visit described at the time.

In this sense, flourish can be used metaphorically:

Launched amid a flourish of publicity, the National Service Department embodied the intention of the 'Do it Now' government to mobilise the civilian working population and relate its efforts more closely to the conduct of the war on the Western Front.

To all appearances, this grand flourish of praise should have signalled a conclusion and brought the work to an end.

In your example sentence:

It would be easy to say—as many members of the media have said, to a flourish of attention, page views, and ad revenue—that all forms of RIP trolling are objectively bad, and that all RIP trolls are objectively evil.

the attention, page views, and ad revenue are like a trumpet fanfare signalling the importance of the pronouncement about RIP trolling. The choice of the metaphor is most likely ironic.

Not all metaphoric uses of flourish, however, envision trumpets:

Then when the grip of some long-enduring winter mentality begins to loosen, we find ourselves vulnerable to a flourish of possibility and we are suddenly negotiating the challenge of a threshold.

This produced a flourish of studies focused on trying to explain why people did not always use health services in the way they had been intended to be used.

Here, we’re back to flowers, which in spring, suddenly appear in great number.

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