Learn English – Clarion call vs rallying cry


I'm studying for the GRE, and there was this one question (sentence completion) where I had to choose between selecting "clarion call" or "rallying cry" as the answer. What is the distinction between those two? Is there something I'm missing?


The context:

Scathing, lyrical and hilarious by turns, Finding a Form by William H. Gass sounds a ___ against the steady encroachment of the banal and lazy into the fields of fiction.

Best Answer

While both phrases have the same literal meaning, a request for a group of people to take some action, they have developed different "baggage" that keeps them from being interchangeable. A clarion call can be clearly heard for a long distance and attracts the listener towards it. Think about a siren (in the sense of Ulysses/Homer, not an ambulance), or a sound from a place of worship indicating that it's time to come to services. A rallying cry (cry meaning yell in this context, not weep) reaches a large number of people who are close by and urges them to do something specific, typically to go somewhere else. "Come on! Let's get our pitchforks and get that monster!" These "just a feeling" aspects of distance can also deal with metaphorical distance - a clarion call would be aimed at people who don't agree with a position yet, while a rallying cry gathers those who do agree and motivates them to do something about it.

In your context, not only the word "against" but also the lack of any "hey you, come over here and see this" or "maybe you never thought about this, but you should" connotations make it clear that rallying cry is a better fit. I would generally only use clarion call with to myself.