Monday, May 17, 2010

Welcome to Cliche Heaven

Here’s the thing about clichés: There’s even a cliché about not using them:

Avoid clichés like the plague.

That is often said or written by writers writing guidelines on writing – yet another professional writers’ cliché – and is apt to get titters from the all-knowing audience who, wrapped in the warm embrace of the obtuse fuzziness that is most writerly advice, go home and continue to bang out clichés as if all those Shakespeare-writing monkey were on a banana break.

I know. I do it, too.

Read Oont, and I’m afraid you’ll find a thousand and one clichés. Of course, I justify myself in thinking, this is a first draft. It’ll get better. It could hardly get worse.

I’m not one of those who believes creativity or originality is dead. Nossir. They’re alive and well, mostly in the talented possession of others. The exercise of recognizing and exorcising clichés won’t a great writer make of a shoddy one. At best, it’ll make a shoddy writer just a little less shoddy. Again, I know, because I revel in my shoddiness. And in my case, shoddiness is not a mask for humility, false or not. I’m just a rotten writer.

But back to the clichés: if I must be a rotten writer, at least I can avoid the familiar stink of others’ shoddiness.

Which brings me to this.

Oh the wondrous joy that is journalistic cliché. I was there with the best of them, extracting those well-worn phrases from the polished cedar souvenir Yellowstone jewelry box, in which all writers in the Intermountain West store their clichés. I probably used many of the clichés mentioned in this article. Certainly “concerned residents.” Most likely “outpouring of support.”

I don’t know why. Shorthand, most likely. Residents are always concerned. Support is always poured. I’m not proud of my use of clichés, nevertheless they are there. And, as is pointed out in the article, new ones are always coming:
"What happens is that somebody, somewhere coins a nice little phrase to describe something complex that is happening. Other people pick up on it and the first few times it sounds pretty good. But then everyone jumps on it."

However, [journalist Chris] Pash says he dislikes clichés less than he hates "meaningless corporate speak" such as "going forward" and "downsizing".

"I stick to the proposition that in reporting you should try to stay away from clichés . . . but I know how hard it is to stay cliché-free. And some clichés are quite descriptive," he says.

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease, of course. Replacement of one hackneyed phrase with another. With shoddy writers it’s sometimes easy to feel out where the clichés have been removed, because some of the tells remain. Just read the stuff I write. You’ll see what I mean.

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