The cliché: This morning Karl Rove laid out the reasons Herman Cain's candidacy is done, or as Business Insider paraphrased, all the reasons "the Herman Cain boomlet is over." The "boomlet's" declared death reflects nothing so much as the preponderance of the phrase as the favored descriptor for Cain's success in national polls. The A.P.'s Nancy Benac wrote Friday, "folks are waiting for the Herman Cain boomlet to go bust." That same day, the Daily Kos predicted, "The Cain boomlet is now likely over."
Where it's from: Reporters view a parallel between Cain's rise and that of several potential nominees before him. So it's no surprise they've used the linguistic parallel – Perry, Bachmann, and Christie have all had their won "boomlets" in the news — that reflects their reasoning. And in fact Herman Cain's "boomlet" has had a long and varied life, relatively speaking. On May 26, Outside the Beltway's Steven Taylor wrote an article entitled "The Herman Cain Boomlet." The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan, too, termed it "the Cain boomlet" on June 1.(He was polling at about 8 percent back then.) Dictionary.com defines "boomlet" as "a brief increase as in business activity or political popularity." The definiton's use of "brief" indicates the sense that a boomlet — perhaps unlike a boom — is ephemeral, lost as quickly as it was gained. Yet, given that when Herman Cain polls at both 8 percent showing was a "boomlet" just as his 26 percent showing is a "boomlet" it seems the term encompasses a wide range of success, and in fact, it doesn't necessarily have to follow the sharp rise and fall that its definition seems to entail.
So why is it catching on? The A.P.'s Nancy Benac succinctly lays out the recent history that suggests Cain's boom will be followed by bust. "Michele Bachmann's moment came and went. Chris Christie was a no-show. Rick Perry faded." Though they were surprised that the 9 percent "boomlet" was merely a harbinger of things to come, they still see doom in this much larger one, the inevitable decline that distinguishes it from a regular "boom".
Why else? Still, Cain had a "boomlet" at 9 percent, and rather than fulfill the prophecy of a boomlet's inevitable decline, he instead tripled his numbers, so why the pervasive insistence on this word? It seems some in the media are intent on resisting the boring narrative of Romney's inevitability. There are just too many news cycle between now and the nominating convention. But while Cain's rise gives them something to talk about, so too must they indicate that they don't take it too seriously or that they haven't seen this pattern before. "Boomlet," then, with its implicit sense of inevitable decline, is the perfect word to acknowledge a rise in political fortunes while still spinning it with journalistic cynicism.