While steroid use among athletes is a common news item, the phrase on steroids has entered frequent circulation as well. The phrase, on steroids, exaggerates the characteristics of a previously named object. In a quick search, I found the phrase describing everything from a city in China to the recent NASA Mission.
He or she who says on steroids hurls an insult with a certain appearance of judicious restraint. It is the superlative of all superlatives. It beats any word that ends in ‘est.’ Gather together uber, ginormous, and seismic. You still won’t pack the punch of any named object on steroids.
On steroids references only one kind of steroid, the anabolic steroid. These particular steroids represent only a small percentage of overall steroid use. The great majority of steroids are used not for muscle growth or strength but for medical benefit. Cortisone injections, for example, reduce persistent inflammation in asthmatics.
When President Obama’s health care plan is described as being on steroids, the critic is referring to the qualities of anabolic steroids that enable unnatural growth. When President Obama’s West Wing is described as being on steroids, the critic’s intent is equally pejorative.
I am not foolish enough to advocate changing the phrase on steroids to on anabolic steroids. That would be like insisting we call all plants by their Latin names. What I do encourage, however is ceasing our frequent habit of maligning others before we are able to clearly articulate our own thoughts or beliefs first. For example, instead of criticizing President Obama for the size of his health care plan, why not offer an alternative?
Saying on steroids, without more useful critique or detail, is lazy. Debate in the public sphere is more than a dope test. It takes guts, thoughtful words, and hard work to bring about change.