Whop till you drop

From Conrad Yunker:

Great site. But it’s hard to believe “whopping increase” isn’t in your collection. The first (and only) time I used it was in a J-school copyediting
class 30 years ago, and the prof replied, “At what point does an increase begin
to ‘whop’?”

Surf lessons

Aaron Perry offers:

Here in Western Australia the Indian Ocean is invitingly clear, a transparent cobalt blue that attracts surfers from around the globe. Yet I sometimes find myself paddling out into the waves among crowds of people better suited to web-surfing, channel-surfing and couch-surfing than actual — well, surfing. If today’s translation of my life’s joy means frivolous time-wasting, I would like to offer several variations. Fridge-surfing might describe one’s hanging on the refrigerator door, wondering whether to reach for the Popsicles or the Ben & Jerry’s after a Friday night spent vice-surfing at the local pub. Where one tried to drink away the anxiety of several months spent job-surfing, ten years of marriage-surfing, and the lack of community and grounding that comes from decades of life-surfing.

He means business

I read the list of cliches and thought I’d offer a few business &
investment-related ones that I resent greatly. I’m in too “foul of a
mood” to think of clever ways to present them:

  • “the bottom line
  • as we speak
  • nobody rings a bell at the top
  • “it’s a cyclical bull move in a secular bear market

Thanks for listening…

Wake up

Karen writes in to say

I’m always amazed at what my fellow college students will say. I once heard a young woman telling her boyfriend: “I like you; you’re nice to conversate with.” After that I started hearing “conversate” everywhere. What’s wrong with “converse”? Or even just “talk”? I also want to know why “sleepy towns” are always “jolted awake” by crimes; and why my coworkers have to “touch base” with each other. And here’s the best one: an “over-used cliche”. As opposed to…?

Period piece

From Bill McCrory

Ban “Period” when it is used after an assertion to emphasize the certainty of the assertion and imply that no other interpretation is possible.

For example, “George Bush is the greatest president we’ve ever had. Period.” (Whenever I see that or someone uses it in conversation with me, I usually reply, “Period? Why not semicolon?”)


From Christian Crumlish

One I’ve always hated is the “… and X is no exception” lede, but I’ll have to dig around to find an example.

Put an end to this

From Sophie Canade

If you don’t already mention this one, be sure to ban the phrase “at the end of the day,” (which, at the end of the day just means ‘essentially’ or ‘eventually’ or some other word that helps qualify a diluted conclusion). This one has been plaguing me since folks started beating it into the ground a few years ago. On the whole, I find such haphazard abuse of the language disorientating.

Get your snowclones here

Ryan Gabbard, one of the brains behind a swell group blog called The Audhumlan Conspiracy, passed along four links from Language Log contributor Geoff Pullum, a professor of linguistics at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Pullum has gone to considerable lengths to dispell the notion that Eskimos have an inordinately large number of words for snow, which aggravates him all the more when he sees journalists rolling this rhetorical snowball. From the first link Gabbard sent me:

The truth about snow words in the Eskimo languages simply doesn’t matter. If it did, I would carefully explain that there seem to be only a handful of roots that really are snow roots in the languages of the Yup’iks and Inuits, maybe four or five, not very different from the number found in English (snow, sleet, slush, blizzard). But it doesn’t matter. All that matters to journalists is that they continue to have the snowbound simile in question at their disposal for constant use whenever a line or two needs to be filled up with linguistic babble.

From the second link:

… hundreds or even thousands of unimaginative writers are using If Eskimos have N words for snow… (pick any number you like for the N) … Well, I just discovered another one, quite by accident. Checking on the source of the original poster slogan for Alien, I was distracted by finding that the web has ten thousand or more instances of jokey variants on it. The original was In space, no one can hear you scream. I found people saying … that in space no one can hear you belch, bitch, blog, cream, DJ, dream, drink, explode, gag, groan, laugh, moo, opine, pop, sell, sing, smeg, snore, speak, squeak, suck, sweat, tap, whimper, yawn..

What’s needed is a convenient one-word named for this kind of reusable customizable easily-recognized twisted variant of a familiar but non-literary quoted or misquoted saying.

In link three, Pullum rips into a New York Times writer for badly mangling the “x names of snow” ditty.

Dennis, I want to make a suggestion to you about your use of hackneyed phrases in kit form to launch articles, and it’s this: get a life. Think up some novel stuff. Don’t be an indolent hack, use your left brain. Don’t just make trips up the well-worn staircase to the attic full of dusty phrasal bric-a-brac that journalists keep returning to time after time after time.

Finally, in link four Pullum has a name for this process of mangling cliches:

Glen Whitman, who discussed this topic on Agoraphilia, taking his cue from the first example, proposes calling these non-sexually reproduced journalistic textual templates by an appealingly simple name: we can call them snowclones.Hearing no other nominations, I now hereby propose that they be so dubbed. The clerk shall enter the new definition into the records.

I second the motion.

A veteran’s favorites

From Tim Porter:

Here’s a list concocted by Ed Beitiks, a longtime reporter for the old (pre-sale) S.F. Examiner who died in January 2001 at too young an age. Ed was an original in every way and as such disdained cliche. He created this list of canards that could be dropped into most breaking news stories. Here’s a link to Ed’s obit.

  • It looked like a war zone,” said one bedraggled policeman. “Buildings falling down, bodies all over the place. I haven’t seen anything like this since I was in the “Nam.”
  • He was such a quiet man,” said a neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “I’d see him at the market and one time he even helped me with my groceries. I can’t believe it’s true.”
  • “Oh, he was wild, sure, just like any other kid his age,” said his mother. “But he wasn’t a bad boy. I tried to keep him in the house after midnight, told him not to hang around with those other guys, but you know kids. He’d laugh and say, “Don’t worry about me, mom’.”
  • Police report that arresting officers chased the teenager into an alleyway, where he turned to face them. The officer who fired the shots said he “saw something shiny” in the waistband of the suspect, but no weapon was found.
  • “It sounded just like a railroad train going right by our heads,” said one of the neighbors, roused from a deep sleep by the crash.
  • It’s a miracle more people weren’t killed,” said one officer, looking around at the remains of the earthquake/sniper attack/meteor crash.
  • “It sounded just like somebody letting off some firecrackers,” said one neighbor. “And then we looked out the window and saw Lurlene laying out there on the sidewalk.”
  • Shaking his head, officer Kite said, “I’ve been on the force for more than 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.
  • One of the onlookers standing near the charred remains said he heard the sound of an engine sputtering, and looked up. “It seemed like he was in trouble, and he swerving around like he wanted to get back to the airport when the plane just turned into a fireball. I don’t think those people ever had a chance.”
  • The man kept police at bay for eight hours by threatening hostages with a Swiss Army knife. He demanded a sixpack of Dr. Pepper, a Supremo pizza and a helicopter to Managua or Van Nuys, either one. The SWAT team closed in just before dark, finding the hostages inside the walk-in refrigerator and the suspect gone.
  • Pilot Fred Tampico courageously avoided an entire block of apartment buildings — many with little blue-eyed babies gurgling quietly in their cribs — and crashed the airplane into an adjacent vacant lot, killing Mrs. Zamboni as she sat watching TV in her mobile home. “It was a very courageous thing he did,” said one air controller. “If that plane had hit the apartments, no telling how many people would’ve been killed.”
  • Mrs. Jalapeno, a feisty 86-year-old, chased the two burly robbers down the street, tossing her umbrella at them as they turned around a corner. “That’ll teach ’em to jump an old lady!” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
  • The defendant, dressed in prison overalls and staring straight ahead, showed no emotion as he listened to the jury’s verdict of guilty. But his mother and fiancee, sitting in the first row, broke down in tears.
  • I tried to run back in there to get the others,” said the teenager/fireman/courageous dog, after pulling the infant to safety. “But the flames were everywhere by that time, and I couldn’t get past the door.”
  • A spokesman for the militant faction of the Shahid Liberatacion said that unless the western superpowers paid the $3.3 billion ransom and released prisoners taken in the Night of Pig’s Blood raid last Nov. 13, “The blood of these hostages will be on your hands.”

Forward to the trash heap

Joy Rothke sends these along:

  • When the guy next door’s evil secret life is revealed: “He was a quiet neighbor. Kind of a loner.”
  • Any lede that begins: “What do ABC and XYZ have in common?
  • The term “fast forward to” when discussing time.