The Cliché: Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter's April 2011 letter to readers focused on J.P. Morgan's Jamie Dimon, and the headline used a clever pun to argue that Dimon's good looks helped him navigate the anti-banker climate: "A Dimon in the Rough." A year later, Dimon announced that his bank had lost $2 billion on a bad trading position, and things got really rough in headline land. Timothy Noah at The New Republic seemed to beat the crowds, going with "Dimon in the Rough" for his headline a day after the announcement, and a Telegraph headline quickly followed up with, "JPMorgan $2 billion loss: Dimon's in the rough" just hours later.
Simon Potter at the Huffington Post ran with "Dimon in the Rough" Monday, and today things seem to have peaked: The Boston Globe has it as the title of their editorial and Politico's home page declares him "Obama's Dimon in the Rough." People have started to notice. Maxwell Strachan, the HuffPost's business editor, tweets, "Dear journalism, it's too late to use 'Dimon in the rough.' Please stop." Indeed.
Where it's from: A diamond in the rough is a centuries old idiom that means, as per Merriam Webster, "one having exceptional qualities or potential but lacking refinement or polish." Carter's use of it was sort of an inversion of the definition:
JPMorgan Chase C.E.O. Jamie Dimon is tall. He’s fit. For a banker, he’s nice-looking. And he’s got that head of fluffy white, unbankerish hair. You could argue that Dimon’s single greatest asset is that he doesn’t look like Dick Fuld ... And because of his looks, Dimon has probably had too easy a ride.
It's a pretty on the outside rough on the inside claim, and it's at least conceivable the Vanity Fair headline writers had this in mind when they wrote the pun. They weren't the first to find it -- "Dimon in the rough" puns have cropped up spottily for years on business sites -- but Carter was definitely the most prominent person to use it since Dimon's profile rose post-crash and he became, as Carter notes, "America's least hated banker."
Why it's catching on: The most recent uses, it seems, have less nuance. The headline writers reach for "Dimon in the Rough" because its familiarity pleases the ear, and Dimon is quite seriously having a rough time this week. But does he resemble a diamond in the rough? Hard to argue that the hard hitting editorials are highlighting his "exceptional qualities or potential" he's hiding within him. Potter in HuffPost, for instance, opened:
Like a fat kid and chocolate cake, some things are just inseparable. And CEO Jaime Dimon of JPMorgan Chase has proven that parable with his near insatiable appetite in saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
So why else? Rushed headline writers often reach for the first pun that comes to mind as sort of a short-hand for wit or a quick way to get readers to pay attention to something that sounds familiar. (We know this, we admit, from experience, try as we might to avoid it.) Even if the idiom on which we pun doesn't speak to the issue at hand, one could award points for originality to the person who gets to it first. But now that a half dozen publications have given this particular one a go, let's humbly suggest that it be retired.