@ John Battelle: What does ‘modest proposal’ mean, exactly?

When I saw a link to John Battelle’s post titled, “A Modest Proposal To YHOO and MSFT: Spin Out A Search Company,” I thought surely it must be a tongue-in-cheek reference to Jonathan Swift’s bitingly satiric essay (1729) from which the term “Modest Proposal” comes. Quick version of Swift’s satire: his “modest proposal” of preventing poor people from being burdened by their children was for (again, this was satire) poor parents to sell them as food. (Sort of an 18th century Soylent Green.)

But then I read Battelle’s post and I think he’s serious — I think the term “Modest Proposal” in his headline is not a nuanced reference indicating to the reader (granted, a literate reader) that his essay is satirical, but, rather that he is actually proposing that Yahoo and Microsoft spin off a search company in which both companies would own 50%.

However, now that I think about it, Battelle’s post works both ways: It probably does make sense (the straight version). Or, is John Battelle recommending to Yahoo and Microsoft that they sell their babies in order for them to be eaten for breakfast by Google (the satirical version).

Later: John responds (see comments) to suggest it can be read either way. So I will.

  • Hudge

    “Bitingly satiric” – Nice pun there, Rex, you old dog.

  • I’m a huge fan of Swift. Read it as it comes….I am ambivalent, which was kind of my point. Er…I think.