Oh Cliché Can You See?

President’s Message

By Jerry Zezima
President
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima

With apologies to Frank Sullivan, the late, little-known but wonderful humorist who created Mr. Arbuthnot, the cliché expert, I am happy to introduce Mr. Lingo, the NSNC’s new, unsalaried language guru.

Q: Welcome, Mr. Lingo. You are an expert in the use of clichés that columnists should avoid at all costs, are you not?

A: Yes, I am, Mr. Zezima, but I wouldn’t say “at all costs” because you might go bankrupt, and most columnists are already perilously close to being in those dire financial straits.

Q: Thank you for spelling “straits” correctly.

A: You’re welcome. Since we are having a conversation, how could you tell?

Q: I have my ways. But please tell us why you are an expert in this subject.

A: Because I know clichés like the back of my hand, and I say you should avoid them like the plague.

Q: Could you give us some examples of the annoying words and catchphrases that even the best writers unwittingly use?

A: I would, at the end of the day, be happy to do so because, going forward, most columnists are good writers who can’t wrap their heads around the fact that, in thinking outside the box, they occasionally use hackneyed phrases that are the reason we are having these talking points.

Q: Which phrase bugs you the most?

A: “Going forward” and its equally evil twin, “moving forward.”

Q: Why?

A: Because, unless you are referring to the direction of a car, they don’t mean anything. Yet people say “going forward” and “moving forward” all the time.

Q: That must have a chilling effect.

A: Are you talking about refrigerators and snowstorms?

Q: No.

A: Then stop using “chilling effect.”

Q: Sorry. What are some other annoying words and phrases that writers should drop like a hot potato?

A: One of them is “hot potato.”

Q: Sorry again.

A: Another is “thinking outside the box.” If you thought inside the box, you’d suffocate. Then there’s this one: “I can’t wrap my head around it.” No wonder. If you did, you’d get a headache.

Q: I have one right now.

A: Good. Maybe it will remind you to avoid writing “price point.” It’s simply a price, though a lot of writers pay a heavy one for using phrases like that.

Q: You should have a seminar on the proper use of language. I bet plenty of writers would attend. Of course, they’d have to preregister.

A: What did you say?

Q: I said they’d have to preregister.

A: Why couldn’t you have said simply that they’d have to register? When do you preregister, before you register? It’s like food writers who advise readers to preheat their ovens before cooking dinner. As opposed to what, turning them on afterward? Then there’s “preplanning.” It sounds like you’re planning to plan.

Q: I plan to be more careful when I write my columns so I can avoid these awful clichés and catchphrases.

A: I should hope so.

Q: At the end of the day, I’ll be a better writer, won’t I, Mr. Lingo?

A: Not if you keep writing “at the end of the day.”

Q: I bet you wish phrases like that would go missing.

A: No, I wish they’d do what people and things did before they started to “go missing.”

Q: What’s that?

A: Disappear.

Q: It takes a special skill set to be a language expert, right, Mr. Lingo?

A: No, it takes a special skill. “Skill set” is another annoying phrase we all should avoid.

Q: I stand corrected. I didn’t know there was such a myriad of clichés.

A: Myriad clichés, not “a myriad of” them. Get it straight.

Q: Yes, sir. You are a very unique individual, with one of the world’s most complete vocabularies.

A: Mr. Zezima, there are no degrees of uniqueness or completeness. Either something is unique, or complete, or it is not.

Q: Another faux pas on my part. This really has been educational, Mr. Lingo. I’m glad we had these talking points.

A: You meant to say that you’re glad we talked.

Q: Sorry yet again.

A: Apology accepted. Now go and commit linguistic sins no more.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Lingo.

A: My pleasure, Mr. Zezima. At the end of the day, I am happy to help. Going forward.

• • •

Jerry Zezima writes a syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate.

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