There was the following sentence in Maureen Dowd’s column titled “When cruelty is cute,” in August 14 New York Times:

"Unlike some of the right-wing ayatollahs, Ryan doesn’t threaten with moral and cultural gusts of sulfur. He seems more like a friendly guidance counselor who wants to teach us how to live, get us in shape, PowerPoint away the social safety net to make the less advantaged more self-reliant, as he makes the rich richer. Burning the village it takes to save it, so we can avoid the fiscal cliff, or as he and his fellow conservative Cassandras ominously call it, “the debt bomb.”

I don’t get surprised to find novel words in mainstream English language newspapers. 'Etch A Sketch,' laser-focused,’ ‘pillow-plumping romance,’ ‘slogans vs. haircuts,’ ‘Democratic sharpie’ – examples are abound even in the past few weeks. It’s rather a fun for me to fish for those ‘quirky’ expressions, though I never wish to emulate them.

With that said, I understand ‘PowerPoint away’ simply means 'erase (clear) away something'.

Is this expression becoming current as ‘Xerox a copy,’ ‘google etymology,’ ‘tweet with sb.’ are, or just an ephemeral coinage of Maureen Dowd’s?

  • May I please ask you to expand your abbreviations? I can guess the first one, but not the second.
    – tchrist
    Aug 17, 2012 at 1:55
  • I'm not really sure what he means by "PowerPoint away". It's not an expression I've heard before, nor is it one whose meaning is obvious to me.
    – Lynn
    Aug 17, 2012 at 2:06
  • 2
    I believe it's a sad commentary on the idea that putting anything into a PowerPoint is sufficient to bring it into being. In my field, real engineering research and design is being replaced by "PowerPoint" engineering where after the presentation when you ask to see the research paper behind the presentation and you find that the presentation is all there is. So here she's saying that Paul just wants to make a PowerPoint presentation on the less-advantaged which should be enough to solve the problem.
    – Jim
    Aug 17, 2012 at 2:21
  • Hello Yoichi ... phrasal verbs continue to evolve naturally in English language to express ordinary needs and topics and it is not unlikely that 'powerpoint away' has already a story of its own and is, consequently, to be situated among Englis word; neverthless, no one can exclude that you are okay in your allusions ... Aug 17, 2012 at 2:36
  • Wait, what is sth? Aug 17, 2012 at 3:09

5 Answers 5


Ms. Dowd is a productive, if needlessly neologistic, columnist for the New York Times.

From the Wikipeida entry: "Dowd's columns have been described as letters to her mother, whom friends credit as 'the source, the fountain of Maureen’s humor and her Irish sensibilities and her intellectual take.' Dowd herself has said, 'she is in my head in the sense that I want to inform and amuse the reader.' Dowd's columns are distinguished by an acerbic, often polemical writing style."

An assessment of whether particular words or phrases have become current is necessarily a subjective one, and dependent upon the size, distribution, and homogeneity of the population you are assessing. With that caveat, here is my subjective answer:

Dowd uses a slangy, conversational style that is quite distinct from written English. Her choice, and coinage, of words, seek to foster the sense of an ongoing, free-wheeling conversation among friends. As such, she uses words in the way that a "typical" New Yorker might in daily, spoken conversation.

On one hand, she will not wait until a phrase has become common or entered the lexicon before shes uses it in her column. On the other, she does not use jargon that is "of the moment" in the sense of being slangy teenager cant, New York city street patois, or passing fashionable curiosities. Writing for a broad audience, her style is to titillate and amuse, not confuse.

My sense is that the typical New York resident would understand the meaning and the spirit of her columns if read out loud, but would not choose to use those newly coined words or clever phrases in their own e-mail or written communciations.

Her use of the brand name PowerPoint, here as a verb, references the popular, and increasingly unpopular, software program from Microsoft. PowerPoint has acquired, in modern American English, a sense of organizational futility perhaps similar to the way "memo" did a half-century ago. When used in colloquial conversation, PowerPoint often implies either an overly bureaucratic (particuarly when excessive length or small font size are cited) or superficial treatment of the subject matter.

In creating the phrasal verb, Dowd chose "away" (she could just as easily have chosen "over", "out" or "to death", for example) in order to create a sense of breezy dismissiveness. Her choice is colored by other common phrasal verbs such as "whisk away" and "wish away", both of which have the twin senses of cursory attention and a desire to have the object minimized or disappear from the scene.

So, in summary, Ms. Dowd's constructions are coy, clever and comprehensible without being common, current or canonical.

  • 1
    One does not need to know anything about Ms Dowd, or have any particular relation to New York, to understand the phrase "Power Point away". This answer is more of a love letter to Ms Dowd than an attempt to really answer the question.
    – Questioner
    Aug 17, 2012 at 17:53
  • @DaveMG Then I have succeeded in my first attempt! The questioner asked whether the phrase was current, and clearly states that he knows the meaning, so I left my personal feelings about Ms. Dowd aside, while providing background as to how Dowd begets her misbegotten writing, and whether her creations are current in the community. I would have thought describing a popular columnist's writing as "comprehensible" to be damning with faint praise, but see that a more forthright fault-finding is called for... Aug 20, 2012 at 4:30
  • @DaveMG Dowd's writing is childish and patronizing (which is quite an achievement, on reflection), snarky without redeeming wit, free of any cogent criticism or constructive thought, and poorly structured, even judging it on its own terms, such as they are. She is too-clever-by-half, and so coy as to be cloying. She argues via smear and sneer. And while she does have an ability to catch snippets of table talk and accurately transcribe them in her printed column, her writing has little resonance, and is little remembered, beyond publication. Aug 20, 2012 at 4:30
  • @DaveMG The reason her caught phrases fail to become catch phrases is that she has a tin ear and uses life-like speech in the stilted manner of a school lunch monitor eavesdropping the cool kids' table. She is a cheap, mean writer, who ought not be emulated, explicated, or read. However, as our questioner has found to his purposes, she will remain an abundant resource for conversational snatches discharged from the pen of an insecure hack trying too hard to obfuscate her lack of talent, heart or wisdom... Since you asked. :) Aug 20, 2012 at 4:31
  • Sorry, I just don't see how any of this background information or personal reflection on Ms Dowd, whether you like her or not, is necessary to explain the rather ordinary turn of phrase "PowerPoint away". I don't mean to be disparaging, I'm sincerely just confused as to why this answer got accepted and Jim's didn't.
    – Questioner
    Aug 20, 2012 at 5:49

I really believe that the phrase is not "PowerPoint away". The 'erase' or 'clear away' that you deduce comes entirely from the word "away"- shovel away, eat away, chip away... The word PowerPoint is merely there to tell how it's being erased or cleared away. I.e., via PowerPoint. And it's use here intends to point out the stupidity or naiveté of the notion that it can actually be done via PowerPoint alone.


PowerPoint is presentation software, so I'll venture the guess that Dowd is saying that Ryan tries give us warm fuzzies with presentations of how things could and should be, things that are easier said than done, things that look good on paper but are hard-won in reality.

  • Ironically PowerPoint is one of the worst presentation applications ever.
    – Chris
    Aug 17, 2012 at 3:44

The phrase brings to mind Dilbert's infamous "Death by PowerPoint" (a fate with which too many of us are unfortunately familiar).

However, the point of the phrase in this usage is probably best explained by the conclusion of this column:

[PowerPoint] creates the illusion of participation without the sweaty bits. Getting into issues requires the hard work of questioning assumptions, examining evidence, determining values and accepting compromises.

That's discussion, not presentation.

Maureen Dowd's column is making the subtle point that Ryan's plan is presentation, not discussion.

  • This is a good answer, but I might have concluded slightly differently: Maureen Dowd's column is making the subtle point that Ryan's plan is presentation, not implementation. I think the point is, it's one thing to talk about it (via presentation or discussion), and another to actually do something.
    – J.R.
    Aug 17, 2012 at 9:09

I think her imagery is intended to convey what the "best" practices (at least according to the PowerPoint Power Users Group) are in PowerPoint: to reduce a complex concept or process to a concise list of bullet points, preferably with great (read flashy, but again, simple) graphics/charts.

When intransigent business or social issues are laid out thus, they are immediately "understood" and virtually solve themselves. Yeah, right.

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