Orwell Watch #11: One man’s lonely war against cliché

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“The internet is not destroying the language after all, then, but giving us new ways of shaming its most prominent practitioners into using it better. Let us set politicians a quiz. What are guarantees always made from? Cast iron. And with what are their bottoms made? Copper. And what are they not worth? The paper they are written on. (Or, alternatively, the paper that they are not written on.) For whom do politicians speak? The silent majority. Or hard-working families. Especially the ones who work hard and play by the rules.

Well, it turns out that the silent majority want to read and hear fresh, clear and original language. So go to independent.co.uk/bannedlist and nominate your suggestions for inclusion. I’d say we should crowd-source this project, but I’ve put crowd-source and project on the Banned List.”

A man after my own heart (whoops! another one!)

These are the … dare I say it? … fighting words from John Rentoul of the Independent, and I’ve just discovered his cliché column.

The phrases that make him grind his teeth don’t necessarily make me grind mine – apparently, “any time soon” is the one kicked him over the edge – but he’s fingered “progressive” as an empty bit of self-congratulation, a charge that earned me some brickbats when I wrote about it here.  But how did he miss “heads up”?  Or “take responsibility for” when referring to those who will do nothing of the kind (I wrote about that one here)?

From the top 100  (check them out for yourself here:

1. Celebrating diversity.
2. Inclusive.
3. Black hole (in a financial context).
4. The elephant in the room.
5. Perfect storm.
6. IMO, IMHO, LOL, ROFL and so on. I mean, whose opinion is it going to be? Genuinely witty abbreviations, however, are permitted, for example, QTWTAIN, YYSSW, IICRS (Questions to Which the Answer is No; Yeah, Yeah, Sure, Sure, Whatever; Iraq Inquiry Coverage Rebuttal Service).  [Shall we add WTF? – Ed.]
7. Vibrant (when used to mean lots of non-English people).
8. It’s in his/her/their DNA.
9. Let’s be clear.
10. “The truth is…” before the peddling of an opinion.
11. Any journey not describing travel from A to B.
12. A no-brainer.
13. What’s not to like?
14. Max out (in relation to credit cards only).
15. Coffee, the waking up and smelling thereof.
16. Out of the box (especially thinking).
17. Radar, to be on someone’s, or to be under the.
18. “All the evidence tells us” to mean “I’ve read something about this somewhere that confirms my prejudices”.
19. Stakeholder.
20. Who knew?
21. “And yet, and yet …”
22. The suffix -gate added to any news theme supposedly embarrassing to a government.

I shudder to think how many of these I have used – and not in the distant past, but recently. Sometimes hourly.

Also banned this month:

“What a difference a day makes”, which was used on Newsnight to mean: “Yesterday we reported something and today the Government has done something about it.” It is a bit like “a week is a long time in politics”, which is as hard to eradicate as cockroaches.

Rentoul ends with George Orwell‘s six rules from “Politics and the English Language.”  Great comments section, too.  What’s not to like?

Postscript on 6/25: Some interesting feedback from Jeff Sypeck in the comments section:

I’d like to see pundits, commentators, etc., stop saying “You want fries with that?” when they talk about college kids majoring in unmarketable subjects. Not only is it unoriginal–Google News shows 27 news outlets using the phrase this month alone–but no one at a fast food joint has even asked a customer this question since the late 1980s! For 25 years, we’ve been ordering complete fast-food meals, with fries, by number. (I also question whatever truth supposedly underlies this cliche, because class distinctions generally mean that the recent college grad with an English or Sociology degree is more likely to be doing filing or photocopying in an office or perhaps working in retail. He’s not the most common sight in the fast-food biz.)

Go to the comments section for the rest of his remarks (about the use of “urban” to mean “black”) and also, Dave Lull directs you to the clichés of love.


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5 Responses to “Orwell Watch #11: One man’s lonely war against cliché”

  1. Jeff Sypeck Says:

    I have a couple of candidates for this list.

    I’d like to see pundits, commentators, etc., stop saying “You want fries with that?” when they talk about college kids majoring in unmarketable subjects. Not only is it unoriginal–Google News shows 27 news outlets using the phrase this month alone–but no one at a fast food joint has even asked a customer this question since the late 1980s! For 25 years, we’ve been ordering complete fast-food meals, with fries, by number. (I also question whatever truth supposedly underlies this cliche, because class distinctions generally mean that the recent college grad with an English or Sociology degree is more likely to be doing filing or photocopying in an office or perhaps working in retail. He’s not the most common sight in the fast-food biz.)

    We should also stop saying “urban” when we mean “black.” As cities like D.C. get whiter and the suburbs around them get blacker, the term loses whatever meaning it was supposed to have. It also suggests that “black” and “urban” are synonymous, as if you you can’t be both black and suburban or black and rural; it strikes me as the larger culture trying to tell black people the conditions under which they’re “authentic.”

  2. Dave Lull Says:

    But a well-used cliche is a joy forever:

    http://www.petting-zoo.net/~deadbeef/archive/2168.html

  3. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Dave, now that you mention it, the one that gets me is “ladies’ man.” No woman uses that phrase. It is a cliché used by men to signal approval or subliminal envy of each other. No woman takes up with a man because she wishes to join a crowd.

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