A clutch of cliches

Somebody who won’t share a name will share these annoyances:

  • Insurgent: Apparently, “terrorist” is not politically correct enough
    for the news.
  • Opposition: What is wrong with calling them what they really are—enemies?
  • Campaign trail: What on this green earth is a campaign trail? (Besides
    journalistic nonsense, of course)
  • Innocent bystander: If they’re not innocent, then they’re not bystanders,
    are they?

  • Last legs: Whoever says something is on its last legs deserves to
    have no legs at all.
  • Conflagration: For when “fire” isn’t grand enough.
  • Modalities: No one should ever use “modalities” instead of modes.
    On second thought, no one should ever use “modes” either, except when talking
    about mathematics.
  • Linkage: “How do we say ‘link’ and make ourselves seem well-educated
    and intelligent?” “Let’s slap on a redundant -age ending to provide an extra
    syllable.” “Brilliant idea!”
  • Capital murder: Unless you’re in a courtroom, you have no need to
    ever use this phrase.
  • Enormity: A penalty of great enormity should be put on anyone who
    says “enormity”.
  • Fighting chance: I started to hate this phrase when I heard it three
    or four times in one episode of the show Babylon 5.
  • XXX years young: This hackneyed “inspirational” phrase is used on
    any old person who isn’t dying right in front of the reporter.
  • The King’s English: Thou shalt not use archaic English in a trite
  • Expert: Whenever a journalist says ‘expert’, he really means ‘talking
  • Professional: The word professional used to mean that one did something
    for a living. Now it means almost anything the user wants it to mean. Professional
    car: A hearse by any other name…
  • Funeral director: Wasn’t “undertaker” enough of a euphemism anyway?
    Now people are euphemizing even further and calling these people “grief therapists”.
  • Suspected: Why not just say “accused” instead?
  • Lay the Groundwork: Someone needs to lay the groundwork for this
    phrase’s removal from English.
  • English Language: A poetic and highly overused way to say “English”.
  • Manhunt: Another one of those words borrowed from “policese” by journalists
    that has infected the vocabularies of millions.
  • Like the Plague: Avoid this phrase like the plague.
  • Assaulted: Fortifications and cities are assaulted in war. People
    are hit, or shot, or stabbed, or raped.
  • Suffer a(n) : If you have a disease, how can
    you not “suffer” it?
  • Wardrobe malfunction: Whoever came up with this one ought to have
    an existence malfunction.
  • Think outside the box: This is the cliche I hate the most, no doubt
    about it. It means nothing. It serves no real purpose. It SHOULD NOT EXIST.
  • Safe haven: Is there such a thing as an unsafe haven?
  • Nucular: We’ve had 60 years to learn how to pronounce “nuclear’ but
    people still keep screwing it up.

What’s at stake

David M. Fishlow declares:

In the jargon of the day, a “stakeholder” is anyone with even a remote interest in some matter. Such interests, however speculative or supposititious, are usually described as “vested.”

But if I know you will cheat, and you know I will cheat, we will seek out a neutral, disinterested, presumably honest party to hold the stakes in our wager. Hence a stakeholder is a disinterested party, not an interested one. Stakeholders with a vested interest in something, when they in fact are doing nothing even remotely analogous to holding the stakes, and whose interest, dependent on innumerable contingencies, is anything but vested, make me postal.

How sad

Sue Burnett in Wales shares these nominations:

  • Hero — apparently everyone who dies in a Ă«disaster’ is a Ă«hero’ – no, no, no! Most of the people who died in 9/11 were victims; relatively few (eg, firefighters) were heroes.
  • Tragedy — all deaths, according to the media, are “tragedies” – again, no, no, no! Most deaths are natural causes (illness, old age) or accidents. A death may cause sadness and may be regretted but that doesn’t make it a tragedy.

Everything not Zen

Dan Hoyt says,

Every time I hear “changes everything” as in, “The Internet changes
everything,” I get heated. What would change everything? The end of the
universe is the only candidate I can think of. The Internet doesn’t even
change MOST things. It doesn’t change the specific gravity of water (or
anything else), or the fact that I sometimes snore, or my birthday, or any
of a huge number of other things. If the Internet would change the phrase
“changes everything” into something that no one ever speaks or writes, the
world would be a slightly better place.

More BONG hits

Charley Stough’s BONG Bull sent more folks this way yesterday; here’s an excerpt for those rare non-subscribers:

HACKNEY PATROL. Gene Charleton of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station joins the dismay brigade. “Talking heads
and other poohbahs on the political beat routinely over- and misuse the phrase ‘a line in the sand‘ to denote a point past which someone may not pass without consequences.
“This is painful to hear or see, when anyone who has grown up on ’13 Days to Glory’ knows that when Col. Travis drew the original ‘line in the sand,’ he was inviting patriotic Texians to step over, not keep back.”

On the eve of forever

Terry Murray of The Medical Post in Toronto offers:

Here’s the overworked cliche (mostly heard in TV news) I love to hate: something “changed his life forever” (and variations thereupon). “Forever” is a long time, and usually these statements are made well before the end of “forever.”

When I worked for the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business here in Toronto, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Grover Cleveland was president, we weren’t allowed to use “all-time,” as in “the stock his an all-time high,” for the same reason – “all time” wasn’t over yet.

You don’t say

From Diana Salles:

Whenever I hear “Having said that,” I replace it with “On the other hand”. I wish people could be more honest when they disagree with an assertion. Instead, they say, “Yes there are too many policemen in this neighborhood. Having said that, there aren’t enough policemen in this neighborhood.”

It’s smarmy, too diplomatic.

It ranks with “I hear where you’re coming from” and “More power to you” for misplaced politeness.

Nuke this

Brian Cubbison in Syracuse nails one he found in The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif.

“Most voters didn’t want Dean’s finger anywhere near
the nuclear button.”

Shocking news: There is no button. It doesn’t work that way. The truth is
much more interesting.

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’?”

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.