I've been seeing a lot of a word lately while I've been editing at work. I'm not sure if it's something that has wormed its way into newspaper writers' toolboxes recently or if it's a longstanding usage. But I think its silly:
- From today's Times: "The muscular efforts by the Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo to remain in office after losing an election appeared to be intensifying this week, with assaults by his troops on a neighborhood of Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, and deaths among soldiers and civilians in several other districts of the city."
- From yesterday's Times, on new EPA regulations: "Changes to the boiler rule could foreshadow a less muscular approach to air pollution rules due for power plants next month and a series of regulations of greenhouse gases to be rolled out over the next several years."
- From a Maureen Dowd column a few weeks ago: "You can’t push a morally muscular foreign policy by subverting morality. And you can’t occupy a country only to trade one corrupt regime for another."
- From a Times Topics page last month: "But the newly muscular Republicans in Congress could also stumble by moving too aggressively to handcuff the Environmental Protection Agency, provoking a popular outcry that they are endangering public health in the service of their well-heeled patrons in industry."
That last usage, "newly muscular Republicans," is where I first saw this outbreak of muscularity. It showed up every few days in stories in December during Congress' lame-duck session and the GOP's more aggressive push for its agenda after their gains in the midterm elections.
(Updated to add: I just noticed that the first item refers to the muscular efforts of a strongman. That's getting close to self-parody.)
In all of these cases, I think assertive or aggressive would easily replace muscular and not sound so silly. (And those are the words I've been changing it to in the stories I edit.)
The "newly muscular Republicans" usage is especially odd. It gives me an image of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell spotting each other while doing bench presses and sweating through squats in the Congressional gym. And really, that's an image I just don't need. (I'd say the same thing about Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, by the way. But apparently they, and the EPA, are opting for a more flabby look.)
(My examples all came from the New York Times, because I have full access to their archive through my newspaper subscription. But I've seen it elsewhere, too. I am 99 percent sure the newly muscular Republicans were also in Associated Press articles. AP and Times stories make up the bulk of what we used from the news wires at the Globe.)