Posted by ESC on October 15, 2004
In Reply to: Re: Third Rail posted by Ward on October 15, 2004
: : : Any ideas on the origin of this one? Our morning newscaster used it again today and while its meaning is clear, its origin is not.
: : While we are at it, when did certain issues become the "third rail"?
: In US politics, the 'third rail' issues became those that were so politically charged that touching them could cause instant electrocution and political suicide. It was said for a long while that the issue of Social Security was one of these....no solution, and whatever you suggested would lose votes from large blocks of voters.
HOT BUTTON - "word or issue that ignites anger, fear, enthusiasm, or other passionate response. The phrase is often hyphenated and used adjectivally in 'hot-button issue.' Such an issue, frequently involving values or morals, serves to lift an audience out of its seats. Hot button, perhaps related to 'panic button,' began as a marketing term. Walter Kiechel 3d wrote in a September 1978 issue of Fortune: 'The marketers are searching for what they call 'consumer hot buttons' - needs to be satisfied, desires to be slaked - and the means to push those buttons.'.Since 1981 hot button has been used in political jargon.For earlier versions of 'hot buttons,' see GUT ISSUE, SWITCHER, AND STIR UP THE ANIMALS. FOR A LATER VERSION, SEE WEDGE ISSUES. " From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).